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Even by Italian football standards, things got a little chaotic last weekend. And we’re in pre-season.
We are, of course, still in the middle of the summer transfer window, the long slog that was 2022-23 consigned to history and the 2023-24 season still over a month away from beginning. Deals are being done and money is being spent (well, not in Serie A at least); speculation runs rife; much of it to be taken with a pinch of salt; some containing vestiges of truth.
Inter had been in negotiations with Chelsea for what has felt like months at this point over Romelu Lukaku. It was very cut and dry: Lukaku wanted to stay at Inter after his loan deal expired, Chelsea wanted to sell him and Inter wanted to keep him. Simple, right?
Well, Inter had to find the money to sign the Belgian. The club’s debt is such that even a run to the final of the Champions League, and the riches that it brings, meant the club still needed to sell before they could buy. Marcelo Brozovic was sold to Saudi Arabia side Al-Nassr, and the next player the club wanted to move on for a large amount of money was goalkeeper Andre Onana.
Onana arrived a year ago on a free transfer from Ajax, with Inter close to a deal with Manchester United for a fee in the region of €50m ($56m), plus add-ons, Inter would finally have the money to sign Lukaku, with Chelsea looking around €40m ($46m) for the 30-year-old.
Word then leaked out via Sky Sport Italia on Saturday that after all of the posturing and manoeuvring, Inter had decided to pull the plug on any Lukaku negotiations, and that he was in fact leaning towards joining Juventus, their most hated of rivals.
According to Sky Sport Italia, Lukaku wasn’t best pleased about being left out of the team by Inter boss Simone Inzaghi in the finals weeks of the season, and especially not in the Champions League run. Inzaghi had preferred Edin Dzeko to the Belgian, and Dzeko started both semi final legs against Milan and the final against Manchester City. In Dzeko’s defence, he’d earned the right to start considering he was instrumental in helping Inter get to the showpiece event in Istanbul. For Lukaku, the snub didn’t sit well, and began putting out feelers to both Juve and Milan before the Champions League final. Once Inter learned of this, any permanent return was off the table.
Juventus have reportedly agreed a fee with Chelsea, but first need to offload Dusan Vlahovic to PSG. However, that deal hinges on whether Kylian Mbappe leaves the French capital for Real Madrid. Still following?
Lukaku is due to return to Chelsea training this week, and so the Lukaku saga is yet to rumble on. At this stage, his options are Juve or a mega-money transfer to the Middle Kingdom, with an offer already on the table.
But that wasn’t all. Last weekend wasn’t through giving us juicy content. On Sunday, we learned that Inter are closing in on the signing of Juan Cuadrado on a free transfer, he of Juve up until several weeks ago. Cuadrado had been at Juve for eight years, served the club with distinction and was a major protagonist whenever the Derby d’Italia rolled around. On social media, it wasn’t lost on people that when these two sides last met in April in the Coppa Italia semi final, Cuadrado and Lukaku got into a war of words and had to be kept apart. Fast forward four months and these two could now be on opposite sides. Infuriated by the news, Inter’s ultras now want a meeting with Cuadrado, given how much he identified with Juve over the last decade, to discuss the club’s ‘values’.
Exchanges between Juventus and Inter are rare. There’s only been 14 in the history of both sides. The first was Filippo Cavalli in 1953, and the last – before Cuadrado – was Kwadwo Asamoah five years ago. Primarily, it’s been players going from Juve to Inter and not the other way around. Usually, it’s players who are on the other side of their peak years but, occasionally, Inter sign a player in their prime from Juve, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2006.
The most legendary of deals between Inter and Juve occurred in 2004, when Juve’s then-sporting director Luciano Moggi managed to sweet talk Massimo Moratti into swapping second-choice goalkeeper Fabian Carini for Fabio Cannavaro (yes, that Fabio Cannavaro). Cannavaro had endured a tough couple of seasons at Inter, and Moggi brilliantly reasoned with Moratti that Carini was one for the future. The deal was done. Cannavaro’s career was resurrected, and he won the Ballon d’Or in 2006 as Italy’s World Cup-winning captain. Carini made nine appearances for Inter before being sold to Spanish side Murcia in 2007.
Should Lukaku sign for Juve, we could witness the spiciest Derby d’Italia since, well, the last one. Games between Italy’s two biggest clubs are always simmering with tension, but with Cuadrado in Nerazzurro and Lukaku potentially in Bianconero next season, they’ll be fixtures not to miss.