Antonio Candreva should be good for Inter despite concerns over his form
What should Inter fans make of the club's latest foray into the transfer market, the acquisition of Lazio winger Antonio Candreva? On paper, Inter have snagged the scorer of 32 Serie A goals and provider of 16 assists in the past three seasons and one of the stars of Italy's Euro 2016 campaign until it was cruelly cut short by injury.
Lazio fans aren't so sure, however, with 75 percent of readers voting in a recent cittaceleste.it poll that selling Candreva for €22 million (plus €3m in bonuses) was the right move. Columns have hardly been kind to the former Lazio man, either, pointing out his advanced age (29), elevated price and the fact that he was wanted by Roberto Mancini -- the same man who pushed for Xherdan Shaqiri, Alex Telles and Eder. Hmmm.
Things were hardly rosy for the Rome native (he is from Tor de' Cenci) last season. He scored just once before mid-December, having begun the campaign by petulantly refusing the vice-captaincy after the dressing room voted Lucas Biglia for the armband instead of him. Candreva's teammates would later call him selfish, a statement backed up by his bad days at the office, characterised by endless inaccurate crosses or ultimately doomed shots from long range. In Lazio's trip to Frosinone last February, Candreva only got two crosses on target... out of 16 attempts!
It wouldn't be unreasonable, therefore, to ask whether Inter have just picked up another ageing dud from Claudio Lotito, much in the mould of Hernanes. Simply put, seasoned Nerazzurri fans know better than to blindly trust that their seemingly cursed team can have too much of a good thing.
Fortunately, there is ample evidence to suggest that unlike his predecessor, Hernanes, Candreva is not on the decline. Even last season's form isn't enough to dismiss a player who set a Lazio record by scoring double-digit goals in three campaigns in a row. The very fact that Candreva recovered should say a lot, especially when the likes of Felipe Anderson barely got up to anything.
When Stefano Pioli tried benching Candreva, moreover, replacement Simone Inzaghi realized that Lazio suddenly didn't have any attacking width and threw the temperamental winger back in. Inzaghi was rewarded with three goals, one of which came in a 2-0 win over Inter.
Even the 29-year-old's wastefulness is partly a product of the sheer quantity of possession he receives: the fact that Abdoulay Konko or Dusan Basta to Candreva was usually Lazio's most-used passing combo says a lot about how much his teammates have come to depend on him. Inter just so happen to need quality midfielders who can hold onto the ball; Candreva is a good dribbler and doesn't give it away too much in that capacity. According to Whoscored, he succeeded in just under half of his dribble attempts last season and, for comparison, he tries less than half the dribbles per game compared that Paul Pogba does.
Moreover, Candreva's recent tiff with Lazio (he wanted to leave as early as January) is hardly all on him. It must have hurt to be given kids instead of upgrades when his team had just finished third in the 2014-2015 Serie A. An embarrassing exit in the Champions League qualifying rounds ensued, an especially cruel fate when rivals Roma, who can field seven players earning more than Candreva's €1.8m a year -- made it to the knockout stage.
Rather than fearing any potential demotivation, Inter fans should look at the pictures of the tanned, beaming man who waltzed into Milan this week as a reminder that theirs is the first major team that has ever truly believed in him. After all, when Juventus picked up the Rome native in 2010, it felt like he was a glorified extra. Now, Inter are buying one of the league's premier goal scorers and assist-makers, asking him to revamp their ailing attack.
With a striker like Mauro Icardi, a wide midfielder like Ivan Perisic who takes on his man and one like Candreva who cuts inside and opens lanes, Inter suddenly boast a very dangerous attacking trio. Is it a coincidence that both Icardi and agent/wife Wanda Nara immediately took to social media after the Candreva signing to express their excitement for the upcoming season?
As it stands, third or even second place are there for the taking' Inter have revamped their squad, Roma's defence looks poor, Arkadiusz Milik needs to emulate Gonzalo Higuain at Napoli, Fiorentina are shedding weight and Milan's reported sale may have come too late.
Less than winning Serie A titles -- Juventus will surely retain it again this season -- what Inter need is the reputation of regular Champions League contenders, a factor quoted by failed transfer targets like Marko Pjaca who want to play at the highest level of European football. Is spending €22m on a 29-year-old that bad when Inter's immediate priority is the league, not Europe? Wouldn't respecting Financial Fair Play actually be the shortsighted option at this stage?
Even the doubts about Candreva's star quality that have always persisted are irrelevant here: Inter need good Serie A players, and he is that. If following this former Udinese flop's career is any indication, it's clear he has proved doubters wrong before and left them eating humble pie.
Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.