Romelu Lukaku's agent Federico Pastorello has condemned newspaper Corriere dello Sport and acknowledged Italian football has an issue with racism.

Lukaku and former Manchester United team-mate Chris Smalling featured on the front page of Thursday's issue of the popular newspaper, which printed the headline "Black Friday" ahead of Inter's meeting with Roma in Serie A.

The headline has been widely criticised, and it follows on from numerous examples of racist behaviour across Italian football this season – with Lukaku having already been a victim of such abuse earlier in the campaign.

While Italy struggles with uncomfortable questions regarding cultural issues of discrimination, Pastorello believes the country has ingrained problems with racism.

"Being Italian I'm really ashamed to read a title like that, but I really don't want to talk about a single episode," Pastorello told Sky Sports.

"At the end of the day, the racist problem is a big problem. Unfortunately we are living in 1920. It's really a culture problem.

"Being an agent, we are trying to protect our clients from this huge problem, because it's not only a newspaper but it's a problem you can breathe in the stadium, in social media, on the street. I think it's a problem that is a culture problem.

"What I would like and wish for the future is institutions could take it more serious. There were some episodes in Champions League recently, also in Serie A games and the institution did not take so seriously the problem.

"[Lukaku] is very sensitive on this problem. I like his attitude because he's facing it every time with strength and power. For sure he is not happy about that, but he's strong enough to face it."

Corriere dello Sport's editor, however, has described the headline as "innocent".

The newspaper said its choice of words reflected "the pride of difference, the wonderful wealth of difference", adding: "If you don't get it, it is because you can't or you don't want to."

Serie A clubs recently signed an open letter vowing to address the issue of racism within the Italian game, with football authorities criticised for not doing enough to punish examples or racial discrimination at matches.

Corriere dello Sport's controversial "Black Friday" headline focusing on Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling proves the media is a part of Italy's discrimination problem, according to anti-racism campaigners Kick It Out.

With Inter and Roma set to tussle in Serie A this Friday, the sports publication previewed the contest on its front page on Thursday.

But the prevalence of "Black Friday" – a term used to describe the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States when retail sales mark the start of the Christmas shopping period – saw the publication focus on the reunion of former Manchester United team-mates Smalling and Lukaku, and specifically the colour of their skin.

Roma, Inter and Milan were among the clubs to condemn the actions of Corriere dello Sport, which defended its headline as being "innocent", adamant the story "is transformed into poison by those who have poison in themselves".

Troy Townsend, head of development for equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out, said errors in judgement help to normalise discrimination in Italy, a country that has been dogged by incidents of racism this season.

Speaking to Omnisport, Townsend said: "We're not shocked, are we? We've seen a number of incidents in Italy this season alone.

"If we talk about Lukaku himself and the abuse he received at Cagliari, Mario Balotelli again – what he had to do through anger, through frustration, in kicking the ball into the crowd and attempting to walk off a football pitch. Then he had his own president [Massimo Cellino] talk about him in the way he did, saying he was ['black and is working on lightening up'].

"This is symptomatic of the issues and the problems that still exist in Italy. While we thought it was an issue for the federation, who allow racism in their stadiums and allow the very identity of black people to be dehumanised, questioned and devalued, we now realise again – like we have in the UK – that the press have a massive part to play in this as well.

"By choosing two black players and using that headline 'Black Friday'… their [Corriere dello Sport's] statement, you're not kidding anybody here.

"Ultimately, that is a racist act that's been put out publicly that many people will glorify on and chuckle with. That's my massive issue – you're influencing the masses with whatever you put out, front page or back page.

"The people they should go and ask how they feel are Lukaku and Chris Smalling. I can guarantee both of them will tell whoever it needs to be as it is and not be led by a limp statement afterwards."

Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport has defended its "Black Friday" headline ahead of Romelu Lukaku's reunion with former team-mate Chris Smalling as "innocent".

Inter and Roma face each other on Friday in a match that will see two of Serie A's form teams clash.

But "Black Friday", a term used to describe the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States when retail sales mark the start of the Christmas shopping period, saw the publication focus on the meeting of former Manchester United colleagues Smalling and Lukaku, both of whom are black.

The front-page splash has attracted widespread criticism, with Roma, Inter, Milan and Fiorentina among those to respond.

But Corriere has hit back with a remarkable defence, adamant those criticising the article do so because it is they who are bigoted. The publication claims the headline was designed to hail diversity.

"Digital platforms? I'd rather say rubbish bins," Corriere wrote of social media, where much of the criticism has originated. "Made up by noble grudges and cheap disdain. A good thought a day turns the doctor away.

"Armies of conformist people surf around the web these days just to paint their good souls whiter. Once the daily racist is spotted, there you go, a handful of strikes to the keyboard and the stain fades away. You feel a better man in a better world. White, black and yellow.

"The denial of the difference is the macroscopic typical mistake of the racism hidden within the anti-racism movements. The mental rabble of the Sunday moralist, and even a Thursday is a Sunday.

"'Black Friday', for he who wants to and can understand, is only the praise for difference [diversity], the pride of difference, the wonderful wealth of difference. If you don't get it, it is because you can't or you don't want to.

"[It was] an innocent headline, so perfectly explained by Roberto Perrone [the author of the article], is transformed into poison by those who have poison in themselves."

Inter have stated "we are and always will be opposed to any form of discrimination" amid an Italian newspaper sparking a racism storm with a controversial front-page headline.

Corriere dello Sport previewed the upcoming Serie A game between Inter and Roma with a front-page "Black Friday" headline between images of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling, a choice of wording that has attracted widespread criticism.

"Black Friday", a term used to describe the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States when retail sales mark the start of the Christmas shopping period, saw the publication focus on the reunion of former Manchester United team-mates Smalling and Lukaku, both of whom are black.

Roma quickly criticised an editorial decision they suggest "not a single soul" would find appropriate, and rival Serie A clubs, including Inter, subsequently reacted.

Corriere issued a statement insisting the headline was not racist, claiming it had been "transformed into poison by those who have poison in themselves".

Inter posted to their official Twitter page: "Football is passion, culture and brotherhood. We are and always will be opposed to any form of discrimination."

Anti-discrimination body FARE posted a screenshot of Corriere's front page with the caption: "The media fuels racism every day."

Milan and Fiorentina joined Roma and Inter in commenting on the headline.

"It is totally unacceptable to see such casual ignorance on racism," Milan said. "We will not stay silent on this issue."

Fiorentina shared the image with a facepalm emoji and a single word: "Speechless."

A series of incidents have blighted Italian football this season, with Lukaku, Mario Balotelli and Franck Kessie each targeted for racist abuse.

All 20 Serie A clubs last week united to call on fans to support them in an anti-racism drive after admitting to a "serious problem".

Roma have criticised an Italian newspaper for previewing their upcoming Serie A game against Inter with a "Black Friday" headline between images of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling.

Corriere dello Sport dedicated its front page to the contest between two of Italy's form teams, but their headline choice has attracted widespread criticism.

"Black Friday", a term used to describe the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States when retail sales mark the start of the Christmas shopping period, saw the publication focus on the reunion of former Manchester United team-mates Smalling and Lukaku, both of whom are black.

Roma – who Smalling is playing for on loan – brought the headline to the attention of their followers on Twitter, posting a screenshot of the offending front page and suggesting "not a single soul" would find Corriere's editorial decision to be appropriate.

Inter striker Lukaku and Smalling have been leading stars for their respective teams this season, but the headline is the latest in a series of incidents to have blighted Italian football this season.

Belgium international Lukaku, who is of Congolese descent, was subjected to racist abuse by Cagliari fans in September.

Milan's Franck Kessie was targeted for similar abuse at Hellas Verona later that month, before Smalling called for stronger punishments for racism in October.

Last month Brescia's Mario Balotelli reacted to monkey chants away to Verona by kicking a ball into the stands, while in an unrelated incident the club's president Massimo Cellino was criticised for racially insensitive comments about the Italy striker.

In relation to Balotelli being dropped from the first team, Cellino said: "What can I say? That he's black and he's working to whiten himself but he has great difficulties in this."

A statement from Brescia said the remarks were "clearly a joke said as a paradox" and a "clearly misunderstood... attempt to downplay an excessive media exposure and aimed at protecting the player". 

Lautaro Martinez is delighted to be delivering success for Inter and says the arrivals of Antonio Conte, Romelu Lukaku and a new system have inspired his outstanding form.

Argentina international Martinez has scored 13 goals in 19 games across all competitions for the Nerazzurri this season, already trumping his tally of nine strikes in his debut 2018-19 campaign.

The 22-year-old's goals have fired Inter to the top of Serie A, a point clear of Juventus after 14 matches.

Martinez came into the campaign full of confidence after netting twice at the Copa America, yet he suggests life back at Inter would still have been tough had Luciano Spalletti remained at the helm, preferring a formation with a lone striker.

Instead, Spalletti and captain Mauro Icardi departed, seeing new coach Conte install a 3-5-2 line-up that brings the best out of both Martinez and Lukaku, who has 11 goals in 18 games.

"Last year, I played in a team with a coach who played with only one striker in attack," Martinez told Sky Sport Italia.

"I knew that in front of me there was the captain, Icardi, the most important player for Inter, and obviously it was very complicated for me to play.

"I always trained to the maximum, but I knew it was like that. I had the chance to play a few minutes but not like I would play now.

"This year, I had a great Copa America, then I met Conte, who works at high intensity and treats all players in the same way. This makes everyone train to the maximum.

"Then there is Romelu, who is a great person on and off the pitch. We are working hard to follow the coach's instructions and take Inter to the top."

Martinez has been linked with Barcelona and Manchester City in recent weeks but described his happiness at San Siro.

"Inter is my home. That's something very important for me," he said.

"I try to work hard and prove with humility on the pitch that I deserve to wear this shirt. I want to bring as much joy as possible to the Nerazzurri fans and my family."

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has insisted his organisation is not blind to the scourge of racism and will implement stronger sanctions on clubs and countries.

European football has been marred by a string of ugly episodes this season, from the monkey noises aimed at Inter striker Romelu Lukaku in a Serie A game against Cagliari to the racist abuse England players suffered during their Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria.

Brescia striker Mario Balotelli and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Taison both resorted to kicking balls into the stands in separate incidents in Italy and Ukraine last month.

Anti-discrimination body Kick It Out characterised the €75,000 fine handed out to the Bulgarian Football Union as symptomatic of UEFA's weak deterrents and Ceferin admitted more must be done.

He told The Mirror: "I understand that the players are desperate because of the punishments and the incidents that are happening again and again.

"Of course you want say [to UEFA]: 'Go to hell!' I know. But I am not so naive to think that we've done all we can and now everything is finished. We haven't.

"We are trying and we care. We are not just some guys in Nyon sitting eating fancy food and driving Ferraris.

"We are ready to listen to criticism. Every week there is something - not just since Bulgaria, not since England, not since Cagliari. We've been listening.

"Every week we hear about some s*** happening around Europe. And we speak.

"I went recently to the European Union. We speak with governments. We are trying to do something."

Ceferin pledged to investigate avenues for tougher penalties and said UEFA will address its own imbalances.

"Our disciplinary committee and other committees should be more and more diverse," he said.

"We have to bring black members in and we have to bring in more women.

"I agree that sanctions will have to be harsher and harsher. And I'm sure we will. I cannot tell you more but we will rethink all the disciplinary regulation and diversity in the disciplinarian gravity.

"In the future, one of the governing bodies where this happens will have to have severe sanctions, I know."

But the Slovenian administrator stopped short of agreeing to competition bans, saying: "I know we have to do more. But tell me which club was thrown out of the Premier League? And you have incidents almost every week. Also in Italy.

"The media attention is their oxygen."

Lautaro Martinez has been linked with a move from Inter to Barcelona but CEO Giuseppe Marotta is not concerned by the transfer speculation.

Martinez scored a first-half double in Inter's 2-1 win over SPAL on Sunday to fire his side to the top of Serie A and take his goals tally for the season to 13 in all competitions.

The 22-year-old's impressive start to his second campaign in San Siro has seen him emerge as a rumoured target for LaLiga champions Barcelona in recent weeks, as they look to identify a long-term heir for the aging Luis Suarez.

Despite Martinez's agent talking up a potential switch to Barca in the past, Marotta is not concerned by the rumours surrounding the Argentina international.


"His contract situation is not compromising," Marotta said at Monday's Serie A assembly. "He is a good boy and is grateful to Inter, so it does not cause a discomfort.

"Inter and Suning [the club's ownership group] aim to grow and you can't do that by giving up your best players. But the market is unpredictable - there is always the will of the player to choose their own destiny. 

"This is not the time to talk about a possible transfer or contract renewal. Lautaro knows very well the trust we have for him."

Eight of Martinez's goals this term have come in Serie A, while strike partner Romelu Lukaku has scored 10 times in the Italian top flight since arriving from Manchester United.

Marotta has hailed the duo's chemistry in attack, with Inter not previously boasting two players with eight or more goals at this stage of the campaign since 2001-02.

"There is the right chemistry between them," he said. "Antonio Conte, a proven winner, knows how to get the best out of them. 

"They are friends off the field and have a great harmony on the pitch."

Inter spent big during the close season to bolster their squad, but Marotta has not ruled out further incoming activity when the transfer window reopens next month.

"We will evaluate the squad because we need to plan for certain situations, and we are lacking in certain areas," he said. 

"At the same time we have to bear in mind what this group has achieved with the guidance of Conte. We look at the window with optimism, but also with realism."

Eden Hazard's time at Real Madrid will develop into something "very special", according to Belgium coach Roberto Martinez.

Hazard appeared to be finding some form for Madrid before suffering an ankle injury in a Champions League draw against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday.

The former Chelsea star has just one goal and two assists in 13 games this season, but Martinez believes the Belgium playmaker will become a Madrid star.

"I saw Eden at the [Santiago] Bernabeu against PSG and I have to say that we saw a fascinating hour," Martinez said on Saturday.

"He taught us how his season with Real Madrid will be and the truth is that it makes your mouth water.

"Too bad he had to come off because of the injury, but we see an Eden Hazard that is going to contribute more and more, that his mates know him more and more and the truth is that the project of Eden at Real Madrid will be very special."

Martinez was speaking after Belgium were drawn to face Denmark, Finland and Russia in Group B at Euro 2020.

Another player sure to be key to possible success for Belgium at next year's tournament is Romelu Lukaku, who has scored 11 goals in 17 games for Inter this season.

"The truth is that he had a very difficult period in Manchester United, especially the last six months," Martinez said about the striker.

"He is now leading a project with Antonio Conte and it will be very interesting to see its evolution."

Antonio Conte says Inter's run of just one defeat in nine matches has led to a "feel-good factor" at San Siro but he has warned his players against complacency ahead of their clash with struggling SPAL.

Inter are second in Serie A, one point behind leaders Juventus, as they prepare to face 19th-placed SPAL on Sunday, and Conte was in ebullient mood in his pre-match press conference.

The Nerazzurri returned to form in the Champions League by beating Slavia Prague 3-1 on Wednesday and victory at home against SPAL would extend Inter's Serie A winning streak to five matches.

Conte was asked how he intends to maintain his side's strong form in order to keep Inter's title challenge on course, and he called for everyone at the club to keep their feet on the ground.

"In the league and in Europe we are doing very well," Conte told reporters. "In Europe we have played with real pride. Even when we lost we gave a good performance.

"We have always played every game on level terms. In Europe the situation is in our hands again. That is very encouraging.

"I am very optimistic and pleased with the feel-good factor. However, we cannot get carried away and must stay grounded. We need to make sure we are realistic.

"We have lots of confidence and that should spur us on. Let's beat SPAL and keep going. I want to see the same spirit and desire. I want us to be hungry."

Martinez has already matched his league goal tally from last season by scoring six this term and Lukaku has endeared himself to Inter fans with 10 goals in 13 league appearances since his £75million transfer from Manchester United.

"Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku aren't the same strikers who started the season," said Conte.

"They are both atypical modern strikers, as they can be a centre-forward or a support striker, they work hard for their team-mates and are really developing an understanding with each other.

"They have grown a lot. They have come a long way since the start of the season. They have a good understanding. They are working very well and very hard.

"The goals are coming which is important. But the whole team play their part. I am attentive at both ends of the pitch. However, there is still lots of work to do."

Inter head coach Antonio Conte believes a capacity San Siro crowd can roar his side into the Champions League knockout phase after a thrilling late win over Slavia Prague.

Conte's men clinched a 3-1 win over Slavia on Wednesday to move up to second in Group F, ahead of third-placed Borussia Dortmund on head-to-head record.

Two goals from Lautaro Martinez and one from Romelu Lukaku secured the points for Inter, although they had to wait until late the final nine minutes of the game to seal the win.

Inter know victory over Barcelona – who have already qualified as group winners – in their final fixture on December 10, on home turf, will book their place in the last 16.

Conte told Sky Sport Italia: "The only way to stay alive and give a sense to the final fixture with Barcelona was to win and we did it. 

"We're pleased, as we wanted to be alive and kicking to the final game and that's the situation. Our fate is in our hands.

"Now it's going to be a tough match, but we can count on 70,000 people who will push us on at San Siro. We were much more of a team against Slavia."

Conte felt the blossoming strike partnership between Martinez and Lukaku was instrumental in the victory but believes the pair have not yet shown their full potential.

He added: "The strikers were decisive and I am very happy for them. They fought it out physically with the Slavia players, which they had struggled to do last time.

"We are talking about two players who are not yet complete. Lukaku has a lot of potential, he still needs to be encouraged. Lautaro is only 22 years old. 

"But after four months we see the difference. Players in general are stronger, they are growing clearly."

Martinez's brace took his tally to five goals in this season's Champions League as he scored for the fourth game in succession, while Lukaku's strike was his first in the competition for Inter.

Although he is leading the European goalscoring charts Martinez says neither he nor Lukaku are concerned with individual totals.

"I always say it doesn't matter who scores, as long as the team gets the goal and wins," he said.

"We work every day to help create that unity off the field and on it. Romelu is a great guy and we really get along, we both care more about the team than our own goals.

"We made a lot of progress since the Borussia Dortmund game, where we dominated the first half and fell away. 

"We're proving that we can have our say in this Champions League and believe we can reach the Round of 16.”

Inter boss Antonio Conte was praying for good news on the fitness of Nicolo Barella after the midfielder's knee injury was the lone negative in an impressive 3-0 Serie A win at Torino.

Barella, who scored the dramatic winner against Hellas Verona prior to the international break, had to be withdrawn on the stroke of half-time on Saturday and visibly indicated his pain to medical staff.

Inter confirmed the 22-year-old had suffered "a right knee sprain which will be assessed in the coming days" and Conte is hoping the setback will not be serious.

He is already without a host of players including Stefano Sensi, Roberto Gagliardini, Matteo Politano, Alexis Sanchez and Kwadwo Asamoah.

Former Chelsea and Italy boss Conte voiced concerns over the size of his squad after the Champions League loss to Borussia Dortmund earlier this month and does not want another absentee.

"I really hope Barella doesn’t have anything particularly serious," Conte said to DAZN after goals from Lautaro Martinez, Stefan de Vrij and Romelu Lukaku saw off Torino and brought Inter back to within a point of leaders Juventus.

"Barella has grown exponentially over the last four months. He is a very important player for us and we can only hope the test results are not too bad. He's a warrior and I hope he's back on the pitch soon.

"The emergency situation unfortunately continues but we can only thank our players for all their efforts, and we will continue to give more than our best.

"The players are really sacrificing themselves and can see the fruits of their labour. They have spent hours on the pitch and in the video room."

Conte had bizarrely advised his players on their sex lives ahead of the game at Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino.

Rather than revisiting that topic, it was Inter's clean sheet that he discussed after the convincing victory.

"I'm especially happy for the players who are getting big results, but the thing that makes me happiest is not conceding," Conte added.

"It was a good defensive performance and that is very important because we know that if we can be tight at the back then we are in good shape as we will score sooner or later."

The 11 wins from 13 league matches to start a campaign equals Inter's best sequence, previously achieved in 1950-51, while they have also recorded victories in their first seven away top-flight games for the first time.

Inter moved back to within a point of Serie A leaders Juventus with a comprehensive 3-0 away win over Torino.

After kick-off was briefly delayed to allow for water to be swept from the pitch amid heavy rain, Lautaro Martinez scored his eighth goal of the season in the 12th minute.

Twenty minutes later, Stefan de Vrij's first strike of 2019-20 had Inter two ahead and Romelu Lukaku scored his 10th Serie A goal of the campaign after the break to wrap up the points.

In-form Lukaku is the first Inter player to score 10 goals in the first 13 matchdays of a debut Serie A season since Stefano Nyers in 1948-49.

It was a frustrating start for Torino, who lost influential captain Andrea Belotti to injury and fell behind before they could bring on Simone Zaza as his replacement.

They were caught out by Matias Vecino's header which allowed Martinez to race clear and find the bottom corner with a right-footed finish.

Simone Verdi fired narrowly wide at the other end, but Salvatore Sirigu had to produce an excellent save from Lukaku's powerful header and Inter doubled their lead from the resulting corner, Cristiano Biraghi's in-swinging cross from the right tapped in by an unmarked De Vrij at the back post.

A magnificent stop from Samir Handanovic in first-half stoppage time preserved Inter's two-goal advantage, the goalkeeper diving to claw away Verdi's deflected cross.

The visitors lost Nicolo Barella to an injury of their own and were relieved when Armando Izzo sent a good headed chance off target just after the break.

Inter made sure of victory after 55 minutes, though, Lukaku's right-footed effort going through the legs of Bremer and beating Sirigu after he had been found by Marcelo Brozovic.

Handanovic was at his best once more to tip away Verdi's free-kick but a home fightback never looked likely in the latter stages.

 

What does it mean? Inter make light work of Torino test

After Juventus had battled back late on to earn a win away to Atalanta earlier on Saturday, this fixture and the difficult playing conditions presented a potential obstacle for Inter.

The Nerazzurri had not won in five league meetings against Torino, but they negotiated the challenge comfortably to remain right behind Juve at the top.

Brozovic brilliant for Inter

Brozovic had an excellent performance, creating five chances for his team-mates including Lukaku's goal, while he had more passes and touches than anyone else in Antonio Conte's side as he constantly looked to get involved.

Torino defence found wanting

Torino have only won once in eight league matches and their early defending here gave them little chance of getting back on form.

The backline was completely caught out when Sirigu's clearance was headed back towards them by Vecino for the opener, while the second goal saw a quick corner surprise them, with Biraghi given time to deliver his cross and no defender in the vicinity of goalscorer De Vrij.

What's next?

Inter will look to build on this result when they are away to Slavia Prague in the Champions League on Wednesday, before a home league game against SPAL on Sunday. Torino are away against Genoa on Saturday.

Romelu Lukaku has pinpointed his positional change under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the moment he knew his Manchester United career was over.

The imposing centre-forward, a big-money acquisition from Everton in 2017, was shunted out to the wing in the final months of his lean second season at Old Trafford.

Concerns over his form and fitness prompted Solskjaer to deploy Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial through the middle, a move that ultimately convinced Lukaku to depart for Inter in August.

"It was after the game against West Ham at home [on April 13] - Solskjaer decided to put me on the right wing, very wide," Lukaku told Corriere dello Sport.

"The experience in Manchester made me mentally stronger because not everything went as I had expected. I didn't win what I was hoping for, my performance was not entirely positive and I didn't even feel 100 per cent wanted. Not so much from the technical staff or from my team-mates, but from the people around.

"So after the match against Chelsea, on April 28, the coach called me for a meeting and I told him what I thought, or that I wanted to leave.

"He saw on my face that I didn't want to stay any longer and he replied that he didn't want to hold anyone against [their will]. He understood my point of view and assured me that he would do everything possible to satisfy me. He earned my respect and, until I left Manchester, there was no problem with him."

Lukaku holds former United team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic in even higher esteem.

The pair briefly competed for a starting spot under Jose Mourinho and could again come face-to-face if free agent Ibrahimovic completes a return to Italy, as has been speculated.

Lukaku said: "Zlatan is a warrior. We really resemble each other because we have faced difficult circumstances in our lives since we were children and when we talk we understand each other. He is one of the three smartest players I've met off the field.

"Not everyone knows it, but he helped me a lot when I arrived at United. He sat at the back of the team bus with me, we talked a lot and he gave me advice. If he hadn't been injured, playing with him would have been perfect.

"Even now he is very strong, he has the quality of a champion and above all he has what we call a 'dog mentality', the mentality of one who never gives up. I believe he will return to Serie A."

Antonio Conte has revealed he advises his Inter players on how to have sex during the football season in order to maximise their on-field performance.

The 50-year-old, who won the Premier League title with Chelsea in 2017 and three Serie A titles with Juventus, took over as Inter boss in May.

Inter have made an impressive start to the campaign, winning 10 of their opening 12 league matches to leave themselves a point adrift of leaders Juventus.

A part of their success could be down to the bizarre off-field demands of Conte, the Italian coach admitting he urges his players not to over-exert themselves in the bedroom.

"During the season, I advise my players to have sex for short periods and with the minimum of effort," he told L'Equipe. 

"And preferably with their wives, because if with others, well, that needs extra action."

Inter are back in action on Saturday after a two-week break with a trip to Torino, who ended a six-game winless run last time out.

Conte confirmed at Friday's pre-match news conference that Stefano Sensi, Roberto Gagliardini and Kwadwo Asamoah are still injured, but Danilo D'Ambrosio is back in contention.

"When there is a break it is difficult to prepare for games," he told reporters. "Yesterday I welcomed back all the players who were away with their national teams.

"Sensi, Gagliardini and Asamoah are unavailable. Sensi missed last month and has had a few problems. We are trying to get him back to his best condition so that he can help the group when back.

"D'Ambrosio has recovered and must now get back to his best. He is a very versatile player, a joker in the pack that can be used in the centre and out wide. It's very important to have players like him to count on."

Lukaku is expected to lead the line for Inter in Turin and Conte is happy with the Belgium international, despite him firing blanks in back-to-back games before the two-week break.

"He is very important to us, as is Lautaro [Martinez]," Conte added. "Both players are doing very well - there is little else more to say.

"They are both doing great work for the team and I am very happy. I hope they can continue in the same way."

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