Edin Dzeko penned a new contract with Roma late on Saturday, ending any chance that the striker would join the Conte revolution at Inter.
Dzeko had been one of Antonio Conte’s primary targets. Pairing the nimble footed giant with the pace and power of Romelu Lukaku or the tenacity and technique of Lautaro Martinez, would have given Inter a formidable front line.
The further negotiations went along, however, the more unlikely a deal became. Dzeko was reportedly keen on a move but the clubs couldn’t agree a fee – be it straight cash, or a part exchange deal involving Mauro Icardi going the other way.
With a year left on his contract, Dzeko held a good deal of leverage. Deal me now or I walk at the end the season. A fresh deal and a pay rise were apparently enough to get him to stick around in the capital, for now.
Inter’s attention must turn elsewhere. Sebastiano Esposito is too green to lead the line. He has bags of talent, but doesn’t have the size needed to survive a full season in the top flight.
Let’s take a look at some of the players reportedly on Conte’s fallback list.
Alexis Sanchez, 30, Manchester United
United would pay you to take Sanchez away right now. A loan deal in which United pay most of the wages would be pretty straight forward to negotiate, though they would probably pursue a guarantee of a purchase down the line. But is it worth signing someone who has given no effort for two years? (Arsenal fans would argue his ineffectiveness goes back further)
Sanchez would be an iffy fit. At the peak of his powers, Conte could have made it work. Sanchez could have worked the channels and dropped deep and probed defences on the run, allowing Lukaku to spin in behind, and condensing the field to give wide players plenty of room to operate.
At his greatest, there were few players like Sanchez. He played at a frenzied pace, but always in control. Opponents minds couldn’t keep up with his feet. There are fast players and there are intelligent ones. Sanchez blended both into a can’t-stop-it-even-if-you-know-what’s-coming package:
Sanchez isn’t that player any more, though. His two years at Old Trafford have been a disaster — He has a combined three goals and six assists. His time has been plagued by injuries, a lack of effort, and accusations that he got his money and then closed up shop – Sanchez reportedly earns £14 million a year.
2016/17 was he career year. He finished with 17.72 expected goals (xG) playing in an Arsenal side built around him – he finished that year with 24 goals and 10 assists, but xG shows those were inflated figures. Prior to that he was reliable for 13 xG and 8 expected assists (xA), good but not spectacular figures.
Those numbers have collapsed since his move to Old Trafford. In 20 games last season he finished with 1.71 xG and 3.55 xA last year, a career worst in both categories.
At 30, it’s difficult to imagine Sanchez can ever get back to his best. Perhaps both he and Lukaku could resurrect their careers under Conte. I’d bet on the latter, not the former.
Arkadiusz Milik, 25, Napoli
Milik had a breakout year last season, finishing with 17 goals in 35 games, good for 5th best in Serie A. He was a big-name prospect when he arrived from Ajax for £35 million in 2016. Back-to-back ACL injuries, however, appeared to have robbed him of the most important developmental years of his career.
Under Maurizio Sarri, Milik was a tough fit. The two years of injuries allowed Sarri to move to his preferred system featuring a false 9 and the club thrived. When Sarri left to chase that Premier League cheque, Milik returned to the side and became a feature part of Carlo Ancelotti’s system.
Milik is a slender technician with immense close area control. He’s no power house; he gets by on smarts, technique, and finishing prowess. He can bob and weave through creases, contort his body to all angles, finish with either foot or his head, and has a deadly first touch. His left foot is a wand:
Milik has more than a touch of Dzeko about his game. It’s always fun to see a player turn a physical weakness into an asset. Neither Milik or Dzeko have pace. Instead, they make smart runs, use their first-step at the right times – getting a step ahead of a defender as the ball comes in – and drop deep to help create for others. Milik has great vision and good touch as a playmaker:
This is disturbingly good:
The injuries are a concern. Figuring out a deal could be complex. He’s probably the most expensive player on the team’s shortlist. Would Inter be willing to part with Icardi on a part-exchange deal for someone who is as unproven over the long-haul as Milik? Is he good enough?
Yes! If Dzeko was the player profile Conte was looking for, Milik more than fits the bill. He may not be as experienced, and Conte may still have some Morata scars, but he would be the best option to hit the ground running.
Timo Werner, 23, RB Leipzig
Fun fact A: I have been mistaken for Timo Werner twice in my life. Both in Munich. One on a flight. And the guy mistaking me for this international footballer was the pilot. I was wearing a freshly purchased Bayern Munich kit. He thought I had been in Munich to sign for the club, as if footballers travel only in football kits. I dutifully took a picture with him.
Fun fact B: Werner has one year remaining on his contract.
A fellow wunderkind, Werner has been on the minds of Europe’s biggest clubs since he broke through into the Stuttgart first team. His trajectory appeared obvious: move to Leipzig, bang in some goals, then replace Robert Lewandowksi at Bayern.
And that’s been the plan he’s been waiting for. And waiting for. And waiting for. Bayern, so far, appear unconvinced, for whatever reason.
Werner will inevitably sign with Bayern a free next summer, but let’s at least entertain the idea that Inter could make a move. Werner is a different profile than the other candidates. He likes to play on the last shoulder of defenders, move into the channels, and finish. He is a brilliant, imaginative finisher. He’s clinical. Milik is a good finisher; Werner is a world class one:
If Werner and Milik are both available (reports vary) the choice between the pair comes down to style. Does Conte want another finisher who peels, runs, and goes? Or does want someone who links play? Was Dzeko individually of his long-term plan? Or did he just really, really like Dzeko individually?
Look at the difference between Werner and Milik’s goal output:
Werner is a bit of a throwback, though he is a willing presser and does contribute to build-up play. But Milik is more well-rounded player.
Fernando Llorente, 34, Free Agent
Llorente would be a no-cost option, and Conte has been interested in the past. He was nowhere near his best while with Spurs and should only be looked upon as a final, desperate option. any where near his best for a few years now.