Inter, Zhang excited: he wants the scudetto and the second star

Calls with Inzaghi and messages to shake up the players: the double challenge against Juve and to keep the club

Filippo Conticello

A distant president who becomes close to his cell phone. It seems like an old commercial for a mobile company, but it is the daily reality of this Inter, full of pride and ambition. The line is actually hot between Asia and Milan: yesterday, for example, a message to Federico Dimarco for birthday wishes. They are 26, ahead of the left-footed Nerazzurri prairies to grow further, as Steven Zhang from China reminded him. On Wednesday evening from the Inter number 1 another WhatsApp to captain Lautaro after the Salzburg penalty. And then, above all, yet another phone call to Simone Inzaghi, “his” coach, the man that Steven Zhang himself defined as a “gift”. The word is tender, but the president now prefers two others which, when put together, become more belligerent: “second star”. In contact with every piece of the company starting from the two ad Marotta and Antonello, he continually repeats them: they are the torch to show the way. Steven also uses the expression in Italian in text messages and phone calls, usually in English. Dante’s language is still difficult for him, despite the progress made in understanding, but all of his interlocutors have noticed that, by chewing them, the two magic words are pronounced correctly. Ultimately, this is what the Suning scion wants above all else: entering history with a new seam on his chest, right before Milan, would give a definitive meaning to his journey at the helm of the club which began in 2018. A journey complicated by expansive and roaring phase of the beginnings to the constraints and debt of the present, but with constant growth in the midst of the field: since five years ago he chose Beppe Marotta as governor of the sporting part, thus concentrating Piero Ausilio in the role of sporting director, the level of the squad has risen from year to year, as have the results. The management couple works and Zhang appreciates it, even from a distance.

on a mission

In short, after having been satisfied with the passage to the Champions League round of 16 and the qualification for the wealthy Club World Cup, which overall means around 85 million in cash (35.74 from the new European path plus another fifty for the event that will come in 2025), the Nerazzurri president is asking for this scudetto with renewed insistence, much more than he did in Conte’s last year or Inzaghi’s first. And he would like to celebrate it: he at the helm, not others. This is anything but trivial given the deadline that is about to arrive like a cleaver and the agitation of some investors in the corridors of high finance: by 20 May 2024 the Grand Tower Sarl – the Luxembourg holding company that controls Inter – will have to repay over 350 million in loans to the US Oaktree fund (the initial 275 have increased with interest). As a pledge, as is well known, the company itself. The final decision on which China’s continued existence depends will be made by Christmas already: hot months of meetings with Goldman Sachs and Raine, advisors chosen for the search for new partners, are on the horizon, but the shareholder is aiming for a refinancing at sustainable rates with a new subject. In detail, a couple of American credit funds seem to have already taken action. More will be known in the coming months, but in any case – even in the currently peregrine case of a sudden sale: fixed price, 1.3 billion euros – Zhang would not give up the chair of president until the end season. Indeed he is the first to believe and motivate for the starry goal. In these continuous calls from China, between Nanjing and Shanghai, the president also made clear what his dream would be: a people’s celebration, the gathering that Covid took away from him for the 2021 championship and which he instead saw his cousins ​​do Hell the next year. Those streets colored in red and black are engraved in his memory, even more so given that diplomatic relations with Gerry Cardinale are now between lukewarm and cold, and not just because of the stadium issue.

in the locker room

Compared to that mockery of a couple of seasons ago, the duelist this time seems to be Juve, an always slippery rival. But at the moment in the Nerazzurri locker room there is a fierce conviction, leavened with the latest European results: the Nerazzurri, driven above all by captain Lautaro, spoke to each other in Appiano and promised together not to make the mistakes of the past again. They are determined to go head to head with the Lady because they think they are superior overall, despite the Bianconeri not playing in the cups. This determination was also welcomed by China and now Zhang relies on Inzaghi to channel so much desire in the right direction. Moreover, for some time Steven has seen in Simone the right style with which to represent the club: a mixture of “sobriety”, “concreteness”, “elegance” and “internationality”. These are presidential words spoken on the phone, in English. Frequent, of course, but not as much as those other two, sacred and… Italian.