Antonio Conte hit out at Fabio Capello and critics of Romelu Lukaku after Inter’s 3-1 win at Napoli. “I always said he was a rough diamond I wanted to work on.”
The Nerazzurri remain joint top of the Serie A table with Juventus, as a Lukaku brace and Lautaro Martinez tap-in secured their 3-1 result at the San Paolo.
It was Conte’s 100th Serie A career victory as a coach and his first achieved in Naples.
“Statistics don’t really interest me that much,” Conte told Sky Sport Italia.
He was visibly irritated after Capello had spoken in the studio about Inter’s strength on the counter-attack.
“I don’t think Inter defended and went on the counter, as we tried to press Napoli right on the edge of their own area for the whole game,” replied Conte.
“I hear people always saying we play counter-attacking football, but this is a side that knows what it has to do every time it is in possession.
“We play knowing full well everything we have to do at any moment of the match. Fortunately, our opponents respect us more than the media seem to. People say we win away because we defend deep and go on the counter, but that is certainly not our approach.”
After that tense discussion, Conte was asked about Inter’s first win away to Napoli in Serie A since 1997.
“Obviously it’s an important victory, as winning away to Napoli is never easy for anyone. Napoli have in recent years been the main challengers to Juventus, with Inter a long way back, so closing that gap this season is an important step.
“We played with character, it’s a game that gives us more confidence in what we are doing and allows us to go forward with the same courage.
“As I always ask, we have to show courage when pressing high up the field and then defend when we need to, but that’s true of all football.
“There are risks, as if you press high and get it wrong, that means you can leave gaps at the back and be in danger on the counter, but that is the nature of this approach, you can’t cover everything at once.
“We could have dealt better with those situations this evening, but Napoli have this as one of their strengths, so we were bound to run a few risks here.”
Conte concluded by taking a few more pot-shots at critics in the media and on social media, relishing Lukaku’s tally of 14 Serie A goals and two in the Champions League.
“I heard people say Lukaku was a donkey… I heard all sorts not even that long ago! It’s easy to speak highly of Lukaku now, but if we look back to a few weeks ago…
“I always said Romelu was a rough diamond that needed work to smooth him out. Lautaro Martinez is the same. These lads are 26 and 22 years old, they are still young.
“I wanted Romelu very strongly when I was at Chelsea, even back at Juventus. I wanted him, now I can get to work on polishing the diamond.”