Ever since the Suning Group completed their takeover of Inter at the end of June, we have been told that our new overseas owners want to introduce themselves to Interisti with a welcome present. How nice of them. After arriving with such a huge amount of media fanfare, Zhang Jindong and his trusty steeds have supposedly decided that they need to make an immediate statement of intent in this summer's calciomercato by making a high-profile signing - despite the preexisting Financial Fair Play restrictions that will limit their manoeuvrability in the short term - to prove that all the talk around their financial potential isn't just a load of hot air, as well as to get their new supporters onside. Sounds perfect.
With a fortnight left before the transfer window slams shut, it has become clear that the aforementioned present is Joao Mario, a 23 year-old midfielder who has shone in recent months with Sporting Lisbon and the Portuguese national team - at least that's who they would like it to be, as unfortunately his arrival is still not a dead cert, despite Inter's very best efforts. Capable of playing in several different midfield positions and fitting the Suning template of being young and extremely promising, this is a player the club have been chasing through their trusted agent Kia Joorabchian since before the European Championships ended, but haven't yet been able to bring to Italy because of the difficulty of the deal. So will they manage it or not?
At the moment it is hard to be certain how this story will end, but one thing we do know is that if this deal doesn't get completed it will not be for the lack of trying - neither on the part of Inter, nor that of the player himself. Talks first began with Sporting about a week before the transfer window in China ended, as Suning's initial plan to circumnavigate FFP restrictions was to sign Joao Mario for Super League side Jiangsu Suning (the other club they own) and then loan him to Inter, which apparently would not have been in breach of the agreement we undertook with UEFA two years ago. The player was offered a five-year contract with wages of roughly €2.5m per season and an agreement with Inter was very quickly reached, while the offer to Sporting was in the region of €25m, and then €30m, and then €40m, in the hope of convincing them to sell for a lower fee than the €60m that would be required to trigger his lofty release clause.
Unfortunately an agreement could not be reached before the magic date of Friday 15 July (the day the Chinese window closed), and it looked as if the deal was definitively off, despite Joao Mario having made his desire to join Inter very clear within the club. That's at least what most news outlets said, but in fact Inter hadn't given up at all. For Suning the Jiangsu route was an opportunity to make a shortcut, but not a necessity, and so after a few weeks of reflection they set to work again with a new strategy: sign him on loan with an obligation to buy, a formula that we have used so many times over the last 18 months. Negotiations therefore restarted under these conditions about ten days ago, and this time it looked as if the two clubs really would reach an agreement, with the Gazzetta dello Sport putting their necks on the line on Friday morning by announcing that the deal was complete.
The fact that we are now five days on from that headline and Joao Mario is still very much a Sporting player suggests they were wrong - completely wrong. (It wouldn't be the first time.) There were reasons for optimism though (or indeed pessimism, if you don't want this deal to happen): first he received a rather telling standing ovation from his fans when he was substituted on Saturday; then Sporting's President Bruno de Carvalho said in an interview to the club's TV channel that "there are certain deals that just need to be done"; and then the usually reliable Alfredo Pedulla wrote on his site during the weekend that his medical had been scheduled for the start of this week. But still we have no definitive outcome. Pedulla actually had the cheek on Tuesday night to write that "talking about a medical already being planned for Monday, as some people had done, didn't seem particularly appropriate to us" - when he was the one, along with Gazzetta, who had said it! (He is normally reliable when it comes to Inter-related stories, but that was pretty embarrassing to say the least.)
So where are we at the moment? Close to a deal being reached, but not quite close enough yet. According to Sportitalia, Sporting have accepted Inter's proposal of a loan with obligation to buy, but not the figures within that - Inter have offered an expensive loan of €10m plus €35m at a later date, making €45m in total, whereas the aforementioned De Carvalho would like more cash up front and a fee closer to €50m, which Suning may not be able to provide given FFP. Someone will have to make a compromise, or this whole transfer will fall through, which would be a shame given that Joao Mario has reportedly rejected a whole number of other clubs (Chelsea, Liverpool, even Real Madrid...) to give priority to Inter. Hopefully this will be resolved soon, one way or the other, because if we can't secure this signing we'll need to give ourselves time to find a replacement (Moussa Sissoko has emerged as a new target for us this morning, for instance, as Luca has written about here).
€45m is a heck of a lot of money to spend on anyone in our position, but this is the welcome present Suning want to give us. They've pursued Joao Mario in first person for over a month and they're not intending to give up on him without a fight. Time is running out, but Inter's patience has not. Not yet, anyway...