Zinedine Zidane's second spell as head coach of Real Madrid is over after the club announced the departure of the Frenchman.

The former 'galactico', a majestic playmaker who dazzled crowds at the Santiago Bernabeu and beyond, Zidane returned to Madrid for two spells as coach.

Now his era is over, with Madrid stating on Thursday: "Real Madrid announces that Zinedine Zidane has decided to end his current spell as coach of our club.

"It is now time to respect his decision and show him our appreciation for his professionalism, dedication and passion in all these years, and for what he represents to Real Madrid.

"Zidane is one of Real Madrid's great icons and his legacy extends beyond what he has achieved as a coach and player at our club.

"He is aware that he has a place in the hearts of the Real Madrid fans and that he will always have a home at Real Madrid."

In his first spell, from January 2016 to May 2018, Zidane delivered an astonishing three successive Champions League triumphs and one LaLiga title.

Drawn back to the club in March 2019, his second tenure did not prove quite as successful, although he led Madrid to LaLiga success in the 2019-20 season.

He departs after a barren campaign on the trophy front, however, with Madrid losing early to minnows Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey, edged out by Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals, and pipped to the Spanish title by Atletico Madrid.

Zidane, 48, had been tipped to depart for weeks, with the confirmation of his exit coming as no surprise to most, although Madrid striker Karim Benzema told L'Equipe this week: "I don't see him leaving. He will not leave, you will see."

Now Madrid must find a worthy successor. Their former striker Raul has been linked with the post but is inexperienced, and Massimiliano Allegri emerged as an early favourite as whispers of Zidane's decision emerged.

However Allegri, who won a Serie A title with Milan in 2011 and added five more with Juventus, is reportedly returning to the Turin giants as a replacement for Andrea Pirlo.

Antonio Conte, who left Inter on Wednesday, may be in the Madrid frame, while Joachim Low, who will step down as Germany coach after Euro 2020, could also be a contender.

Whoever takes the job will inherit a side who finished 2020-21 in fine form.

Madrid ended their LaLiga campaign on an 18-game unbeaten run, winning 13 and drawing five in that sequence to apply pressure on one-time runaway leaders Atletico, taking the title battle to the final day.

That goes down as their best run without defeat in a single league season since Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid also strung together 18 unbeaten games in the 2013-14 campaign, winning 15 times.

Zinedine Zidane's second spell as head coach of Real Madrid is over after the club announced the departure of the Frenchman.

The former 'galactico', a majestic playmaker who dazzled crowds at the Santiago Bernabeu and beyond, Zidane returned to Madrid for two spells as coach.

Now his era is over, with Madrid stating on Thursday: "Real Madrid announces that Zinedine Zidane has decided to end his current spell as coach of our club.

"It is now time to respect his decision and show him our appreciation for his professionalism, dedication and passion in all these years, and for what he represents to Real Madrid.

"Zidane is one of the great mythical figures of Real Madrid and his legend goes beyond what he has been as a coach and player of our club.

"He knows that he is at the heart of Real Madrid and that Real Madrid is and will always be his home."

In his first spell, from January 2016 to May 2018, Zidane delivered an astonishing three successive Champions League triumphs and one LaLiga title.

Drawn back to the club in March 2019, his second tenure did not prove quite as successful, although he led Madrid to LaLiga success in the 2019-20 season.

He departs after a barren campaign on the trophy front, however, with Madrid losing early to minnows Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey, edged out by Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals, and pipped to the Spanish title by Atletico Madrid.

Zidane, 48, had been tipped to depart for weeks, with the confirmation of his exit coming as no surprise to most, although Madrid striker Karim Benzema told L'Equipe this week: "I don't see him leaving. He will not leave, you will see."

Now Madrid must find a worthy successor. Their former striker Raul has been linked with the post but is inexperienced, and Massimiliano Allegri emerged as an early favourite as whispers of Zidane's decision emerged.

However Allegri, who won a Serie A title with Milan in 2011 and added five more with Juventus, is reportedly returning to the Turin giants as a replacement for Andrea Pirlo.

Antonio Conte, who left Inter on Wednesday, may be in the Madrid frame, while Joachim Low, who will step down as Germany coach after Euro 2020, could also be a contender.

Whoever takes the job will inherit a side who finished 2020-21 in fine form.

Madrid ended their LaLiga campaign on an 18-game unbeaten run, winning 13 and drawing five in that sequence to apply pressure on one-time runaway leaders Atletico, taking the title battle to the final day.

That goes down as their best run without defeat in a single league season since Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid also strung together 18 unbeaten games in the 2013-14 campaign, winning 15 times.

Inter star Romelu Lukaku said he owes Antonio Conte "a lot" after penning a heartfelt farewell message to the former Nerazzurri head coach.

Conte guided Inter to their first Serie A title since 2010 but the Italian boss remarkably departed less than a month on from the club's Scudetto triumph by mutual consent on Wednesday.

The 51-year-old, who had another year remaining on his contract after arriving from Chelsea in 2019, had been tipped to leave amid Inter's financial situation and a supposed dispute over salary cuts and player sales.

Lured to San Siro by Conte in 2019, Lukaku paid tribute to the outgoing boss.

Lukaku wrote via Instagram: "2014 we spoke for the first time and we have had a bond ever since. We had many moments to work together but only god knows why it never happened earlier.

"You came at the right time and basically changed me as a player and made me even stronger mentally and more importantly we won together!

"Winning is and it's all that matters to you and I'm glad that I have had you as a coach.

"I will keep your principles for the rest of my career [physical preparation, mental and just the drive to win…] it was a pleasure to play for you!

"Thank you for all what you did. I owe you a lot…"

Former Italy boss Conte became only the second coach in Serie A history to win a Scudetto with both Inter and Juventus, joining Giovanni Trapattoni.

Conte earned his fourth Serie A title this season – only five other coaches in league history have managed at least four.

Inter gained more than 90 points in a single top-flight campaign for only the second time in their history (after 2006-07), while Conte became the first coach to achieve that tally with two different Serie A sides in the three-points-per-win era.

Lukaku scored 30 goals in all competitions this season and 24 in Serie A – only in 2016-17 for Everton did the Belgian score more (25) in a single campaign in one of Europe's top five leagues. 

Antonio Conte's departure from Inter sent shockwaves through Italian and European football on Wednesday.

Just weeks after leading the Nerazzurri to their first Scudetto in 11 seasons, Conte left San Siro by mutual consent, amid reports of the Inter board needing to slash the wage bill and sell star players.

The pursuit of major honours and a strained relationship with his bosses have been constant themes of a turbulent two seasons at Inter for the former Juventus, Italy and Chelsea boss.

Below are some of the highs and lows of his two-season tenure.

HIGHS

Winning Serie A

Having left another post abruptly, it remains to be seen what this episode does for Conte's standing when it comes to further elite coaching positions.

But there can be no doubt he gets results. Conte was brought in to bring down the Juventus dynasty he set in motion and his past three club jobs have now all yielded top-flight titles.

They romped to glory with 91 points this time around, meaning Conte is the first head coach in Serie A history to have gained in excess of 90 points at two clubs, having got 102 at Juve in 2013-14. He left after that one, as well.

Lukaku reborn

Conte is famously terrible at seeing eye to eye with his bosses and one of the reasons his tenure at Chelsea soured was the failure to bring Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge.

Lukaku's switch to Manchester United proved the wrong move for both parties and Conte finally got his man in 2019. The outcome has been fairly spectacular.

The Belgium striker's 72 Serie A appearances for Inter have yielded 47 goals, while his 64 in all competitions since the start of last season puts him joint fifth in Europe's top five leagues alongside Ciro Immobile, behind Robert Lewandowski (103), Cristiano Ronaldo (73), Kylian Mbappe (69) and Erling Haaland (65).

Kings of Milan

This is a moniker Lukaku applied to himself, mainly as a jibe in Zlatan Ibrahimovic's direction. But it applied just as much to Inter during Conte's spell in charge as they enjoyed some stirring victories over bitter rivals Milan.

Overall, in five Derby della Madonnina, Inter won four and lost one. Last season's 4-2 comeback win in Serie A from 4-2 down was an instant classic

Ibrahimovic opened the scoring, clashed angrily with Lukaku and was sent off in a feisty Coppa Italia clash this January. Lukaku then equalised from the penalty spot and Christian Eriksen sealed victory with a 97th-minute free-kick. Derby wins really do not come any sweeter.

 

LOWS

Europa League final heartache

If Conte is a specialist when it comes to domestic league titles, he fell short in the Europa League against the club that has mastered its vagaries better than any other.

Sevilla won the competition for the sixth time this century, prevailing 3-2 in a helter-skelter encounter in Cologne – Lukaku unfortunately deciding the contest with an own goal, having given Inter an early lead via a fifth-minute penalty.

The wider context around the loss probably sowed the seeds for the predicament in which Inter and Conte now find themselves.

Board room ructions

Having failed to lift European silverware and finished second in Serie A, despite Juventus showing some of the cracks that opened so widely this season, Conte was apparently ready to walk after a year in charge and talked cryptically about his prospects of carrying on.

From Lukaku and Eriksen to the likes of Achraf Hakimi, Alexis Sanchez and Ashley Young, Conte has been backed considerably in terms of transfer fees and wages at San Siro.

He rarely acknowledged this in public, frequently saying his squad needed new additions. Inter will have had a very good idea how all this was going to end if – as seems to be the case – cost-cutting is now so high on the agenda.

Champions League failure

Alongside the above concerns over his temperament, Conte's underwhelming results in the Champions League are another thing that will give prospective future employers pause for thought.

At Juventus and Chelsea, he never got particularly close to winning it and Inter, despite being handed a notably tough group alongside Real Madrid, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk, bowed out at the round-robin stage in 2020-21, finishing bottom.

When he won the Premier League in 2016-17, Chelsea were not burdened by European football. There is unquestionably a disparity between Conte the one-game-a-week coach, who thrives on drilling his players with rigorous detail, and his returns when forced to battle on two fronts.

Inter's not-so-well-kept secret is out in the open and Antonio Conte has left the club by mutual consent despite ending an 11-year wait for Serie A glory this term.

Conte became the first coach in the three-points-for-a-win era to secure the title with 90-plus points with two different teams, having also done so as Juventus head coach.

But Conte's long-term future has often been shrouded in doubt and he was tipped to leave after defeat in last term's Europa League final to Sevilla.

Though he stayed put and brought the title to the Nerazzurri, things really began to escalate when owner Steven Zhang reportedly told Conte Inter's wage bill would need to be slashed and around €100million raised in player sales.

Conte has already headed for the exit door but there are plenty of others who may follow. Here are five players who would certainly draw interest from elsewhere.

ROMELU LUKAKU

With Inter seemingly in need of quick funds, the most obvious saleable asset in their ranks is Romelu Lukaku, a player who has flourished under Conte. This season, the Belgium star scored 24 goals and supplied 11 assists in Serie A – making him the first player to have 20-plus goals and 10-plus assists in a single top-flight campaign in Italy since Opta began collecting this kind of data in 2004-05.

Lukaku has been heavily linked to a return to the Premier League, with both former club Chelsea or Manchester City (the forward having signed from the Citizens' rivals Manchester United). He has 64 goals and 17 assists across all competitions for Inter, and could feasibly raise the money his club are looking for in one hit.

LAUTARO MARTINEZ

It was not so long ago Lukaku's strike partner Lautaro Martinez was tipped to join Barcelona. That move failed to materialise and, with Barcelona's own financial problems well documented, it would seem unlikely such a deal would be revisited in the near future. That being said, the Argentina striker is another who would be sure to attract several suitors for his signature. With 49 goals and 14 assists since joining Inter in 2018, Martinez is among the Nerazzurri's most prized assets.

CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN

It was only six months ago that Christian Eriksen appeared certain to depart Inter after a disappointing stint since joining from Tottenham in January 2020. But the Denmark playmaker enjoyed a renaissance since the turn of the year and was influential in Inter's success. There were no assists last term, but Eriksen did manage four goals, as well as creating 39 chances – five of which are defined as 'big chances' by Opta.

A return to Spurs was previously mooted, while Borussia Dortmund were also said to be interested. There are seemingly others more likely to leave but Eriksen may come on to a few radars and would take a decent chunk out of the wage bill.

NICOLO BARELLA

One of the brightest prospects in Italian football, Nicolo Barella recently made the Serie A Team of the Season for the second straight campaign and Inter would certainly look to sell others before their brilliant midfield maestro. Chelsea have been linked with a big-money move for the Italy international, but he would likely command a huge fee and Inter are said to be reluctant to sacrifice Barella.

The 24-year-old had 10 assists, created 11 big chances, 62 chances in total and had a passing accuracy of 84.58 per cent across all competitions in 2020-21.

ACHRAF HAKIMI

Achraf Hakimi joining from Real Madrid in July 2020, after spending two seasons on loan with Borussia Dortmund, represented a real coup for Conte. Arsenal have been tentatively linked with the attacking full-back, while his talents will be sure to draw interest from Europe's big hitters, even if Inter look to cash in on players elsewhere first. In 45 games across all competitions, Hakimi had seven goals, nine assists and 46 chances created. Twelve of those were big chances.

Antonio Conte has departed Inter by mutual consent less than a month on from clinching the Serie A title, the club have confirmed.

The 51-year-old guided the Nerazzurri to their first Scudetto since 2010 in just his second season in charge.

Conte, who also led Inter to the Europa League final in his first season at the San Siro helm, had another year to run on his contract.

However, amid a supposed dispute between the coach and the club's owners over salary cuts and player sales, it was confirmed on Wednesday that Conte will leave his role.

A club statement read: "FC Internazionale Milano can confirm that an agreement has been reached with Antonio Conte for the termination of his contract by mutual consent. 

"The club would like to thank Antonio for the extraordinary work that he has done, culminating in Inter's 19th top-flight title. Antonio Conte will forever remain a part of our club's history."

Conte's future as Inter boss has been in doubt since the club's financial problems were laid bare by chairman Steven Zhang.

The Italian champions are reportedly looking to raise €100million through player sales during the close season, with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez being linked with moves away.

Conte did not speak to the media during the closing weeks of the Serie A season, but assistant Cristian Stellini stated last week that the former Chelsea and Juventus boss needed a high-level project the club must match.

Inter lost just three league games in 2020-21 and finished with 91 points – 12 more than runners-up Milan – though they exited the Champions League at the group stage and were knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Juventus in the semi-finals.

Conte also won three league titles during his time in charge of Juventus and is the only Serie A manager to have gained 90-plus points with two different sides in the three-points-per win era.

He departs Inter having won 52, drawn 17 and lost seven of his 76 Serie A matches.

Antonio Conte has departed Inter by mutual consent less than a month on from clinching the Serie A title, the club have confirmed.

The 51-year-old guided the Nerazzurri to their first Scudetto since 2010 in just his second season in charge.

Conte, who also led Inter to the Europa League final in his first season at the San Siro helm, had another year to run on his contract.

However, amid a supposed dispute between the coach and the club's owners over salary cuts and player sales, it was confirmed on Wednesday that Conte will leave his role.

 

Tottenham have been linked with a host of big names as their search for a new head coach continues, but could they be set to turn to a familiar face?

Spurs dismissed Jose Mourinho last month amid an underwhelming campaign where they fell off the top-four pace in the Premier League, as well as crashing out of Europe to Dinamo Zagreb despite having led 2-0 from the first leg.

With speculation mounting around superstar forward Harry Kane's desire to leave, Spurs are getting busy.

 

TOP STORY - SPURS PLOT POCHETTINO RETURN

The Sun reports that Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy will consider if he can convince former boss Mauricio Pochettino to complete an astonishing return to the club.

Pochettino, who took Spurs to the 2019 Champions League final, is currently in charge of Paris Saint-Germain, who finished Ligue 1 runners-up on the weekend.

The Sun claims that Pochettino is unhappy in Paris and would consider heading back to north London, where he was sacked in November 2019 after a poor run of results.

Sky Sports also reports that Spurs are in talks with Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fresh from winning the Serie A title, Antonio Conte and Inter could split by mutual consent according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. Inter are trying to cut their salary bill, offloading key members and restricting their off-season business, with those details not yet agreed with Conte.

- Sport claims that Barcelona have stepped up their pursuit of off-contract Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and they are close to a three-year agreement after his representative met with president Joan Laporta.

- Wolves are ready to sell midfielder Ruben Neves as they look to fund a rebuild after Nuno Espirito Santo's exit, according to The Athletic. They want £35million for the Portugal international.

- Sky Sports reports that Willian wants to return to Chelsea, barely a year after leaving the Blues for London rivals Arsenal.

- Bild claims that RB Leipzig defender Nordi Mukiele is being chased by Paris Saint-Germain and Spanish champions Atletico Madrid.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen wants to stay with Barcelona and is not considering any other option with Borussia Dortmund not pursuing him, claims Fabrizio Romano.

Is the Gianluigi Donnarumma-Milan relationship coming to an end?

Donnarumma made his debut as a 16-year-old for Milan in 2015, however, the Italy international is reportedly close to making the move to Serie A rivals Juventus.

Step forward Mike Maignan…

 

TOP STORY – DONNARUMMA OUT, MAIGNAN IN?

Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan is poised to undergo a medical with Milan as Gianluigi Donnarumma edges closer to a blockbuster Juventus switch, according to widespread reports.

Donnarumma is set to become a free agent and the Milan star is yet to re-sign with the Rossoneri, who qualified for the Champions League.

Gianluca Di Marzio reports Milan are no longer waiting on Donnarumma as they step up their pursuit of Maignan, who will arrive in Italy on Tuesday after helping Lille to Ligue 1 glory.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano says Massimiliano Allegri's priority is to take charge of Real Madrid, despite interest from former club Juve and Napoli in Serie A. Allegri is the favourite to replace Zinedine Zidane should he leave the Spanish capital. Despite securing a top-four finish, Andrea Pirlo is being tipped to leave Juve.

- There is set to be a coaching merry-go-round in Serie A this off-season. The front page of Tuesday's Corriere dello Sport says Porto boss Sergio Conceicao is favourite to succeed Gennaro Gattuso at Napoli, with the latter tipped to replace Simone Inzaghi at Lazio. Ex-Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca is the new first choice to join Fiorentina.

Inter must sell one star – Lautaro Martinez or Alessandro Bastoni – due to their financial situation, according to Corriere dello Sport. Martinez has been linked with Barcelona and Real Madrid, while Bastoni has attracted interest from Liverpool and Manchester City. There is also speculation regarding the future of coach Antonio Conte and star Romelu Lukaku, who is reportedly wanted by Chelsea, Barca and Madrid.

- The Telegraph claims Manchester United are prioritising the signing of Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, who has long been tipped to join the Red Devils. Dortmund team-mate Erling Haaland is also wanted at Old Trafford, while Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has been linked with a sensational return.

Tottenham are interested in re-hiring Mauricio Pochettino, reports the Independent. Pochettino is in charge of Paris Saint-Germain after replacing Thomas Tuchel in January but he was unable to oversee a successful title defence this season.

Bayern Munich and Barcelona are targeting Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum on a free transfer, says Sky Sports.

Antonio Conte did not speak to the media after Inter were presented with the Serie A trophy, with assistant Cristian Stellini saying the coach needs a high-level project that the club must match.

Inter boss Conte, who has one year remaining on his contract at San Siro, is set for showdown talks with the club's board after steering them to a 19th Scudetto and their first since 2009-10.

The Nerazzurri are in a difficult position financially following the coronavirus pandemic, with the future of the head coach and a number of high-earning players consequently uncertain.

Speaking after a 5-1 win on the final day of the season on Sunday, Stellini suggested Conte would be more than happy to stay at Inter but he needs the club's ambition to match his own.

"It's something many are asking about," Stellini said to DAZN when quizzed on Conte's situation.

"We should take a step back and think back to the start of this project. It was an important three-year project to bring Inter back to victory in Italy and to succeed in Europe. In Italy we achieved a fantastic goal. Great empathy was created between the staff and the players.

"This project should continue, but the answer will only come from the club. If this project can continue, we would be very happy. But when you have a top, high-level coach, the projects must be of a high standard and must remain at the top."

It has been reported Inter could be forced to sell at least one big-name player due to their financial situation, something Stellini thinks would play a significant role in deciding Conte's position.

"It could change things, but it's something the club explains to the coach," said Stellini.

"I don't know if that will happen. I don't know when the meeting will take place and what they will say. In that way, the club could also decide the fate of their coach.

"We are optimistic because we have created what we were trying to create, which is a team that excels in Italy and wants to grow in Europe. 

"We have this possibility in our hands and we don't want to let it slip away. It was difficult to think we could interrupt the domination of Juventus. 

"The Scudetto was unthinkable. We all did an extraordinary job and that is why a team like this needs to keep growing."

Inter finished the season with 91 points, making Conte the first Serie A coach to gain at least 90 in two campaigns with different clubs.

Antonio Conte will meet Inter chairman Steven Zhang "as soon as possible" as the Scudetto winners look to keep the coach at San Siro, it was revealed on Saturday.

Worries over Inter's financial stability have been raised in recent weeks, with the Serie A champions not immune from the money worries that have blighted clubs globally during the COVID-19 crisis.

The club have asked players to accept a pay cut as part of a cost-cutting exercise, while the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez have been linked with moves away.

Giuseppe Marotta, CEO for the sporting side of the club, recently insisted all existing contracts will be respected by Inter should the players reject the club's request.

But amid such talk there is also concern about whether Conte sees his future with the Nerazzurri, and Marotta hopes the planned talks with Zhang prove beneficial.

"He is a winner and he has shown it here too," Marotta said of Conte.

"Coaches like this are very ambitious and his cycle has started very well and he will want to improve it."

Speaking to Sky Sport Italia, Marotta said: "As soon as possible there will be a meeting with the president, I hope we can continue."

Marotta was interviewed on the evening Inter lost 3-2 to Juventus, the club at which he and Conte first worked together.

Should Conte seek to leave Inter, where his contract runs to the end of next season, there would likely be several clubs interested in recruiting the 51-year-old.

He was linked in Spanish media on Saturday as a possible successor to Zinedine Zidane, whose time at Real Madrid looks to be coming to an end, although Raul is said to be a favourite for that position, should it come up.

Conte did not hold a news conference before the recent game against Roma, nor ahead of the Juventus clash, with Inter instead putting out match-focused comments from the coach on their website and club television station.

That meant Conte avoided being asked any uncomfortable questions by journalists about his or the club's future.

Assistant coach Cristian Stellini handled media duties following the Juventus game and was asked about Conte's well-being, saying: "He's in a calm frame of mind."

Lautaro Martinez sees winning the Scudetto as vindication for his decision to stay at Inter, where he has formed a superb partnership with fellow forward Romelu Lukaku.

Martinez was heavily linked with a move to Barcelona throughout the 2019-20 season, with the player even discussing a possible switch to Camp Nou with fellow Argentine Lionel Messi.

However, the 23-year-old instead opted to stick around at San Siro, remaining a key part of Antonio Conte's squad as the Nerazzurri secured a first Serie A title since 2010.

Inter had finished second in the previous season but have kicked on after that disappointment, running away from their rivals since the turn of the year to be crowned champions and end Juventus' nine-year dominance in the competition.

"I am very happy to be at Inter, even more so after this Scudetto which has been missing for so many years," Martinez said in an interview with Sky Sport Italia.

"We are experiencing an incredible moment and I cannot think of anything other than being here.

"I was close to Barcelona, I had also spoken with Messi. Afterwards, I made a choice - I chose to stay here and I was not wrong."

Martinez's combination with Lukaku has been a key factor for Inter, the pair scoring 75 league goals between them in their two seasons together at the club.

Lukaku has been a revelation since joining from Manchester United. After 23 goals in his debut Serie A campaign, he is at 22 this time around with two games to play, as well as providing 11 assists.

The Belgian striker has been ruthless too, converting 52.8 per cent of what Opta describes as 'big' chances, which is where a player is expected to score.

Martinez – who has 16 goals and five assists in the league in 2020-21 – believes the dynamic duo have continually pushed each other to raise the bar under Conte, in part due to the competition provided by having the experienced Alexis Sanchez in the squad.

"We built our relationship from the first day he arrived," Martinez said of Lukaku.

"The year before he had watched Inter's matches and we talked about this for two or three hours after the first training session. He speaks Spanish, we understood each other immediately.

"I always tell him that there is a match between the three of us, because every training session we try to improve and give our best.

"Each one has taken a step forward this year and this is important for the growth of Inter and this group."

Inter chief executive Giuseppe Marotta is hopeful that head coach Antonio Conte will still be in charge at San Siro next season but is unable to offer any guarantees.

Conte guided Inter to their first Scudetto triumph since 2009-10 this season with four games to spare and is under contract for another year.

However, the Italian giants are facing well-documented financial issues and Conte is reportedly considering his future beyond the end of this campaign.

Talks are said to be planned between the ex-Chelsea boss and president Steven Zhang once Inter have played their remaining two league matches.

And when asked by Sky Sport Italia whether Conte will still be in the Inter dugout next season, Marotta could not give a definitive answer. 

"As a person and a director, I certainly hope so," Marotta said. "He helped to start a new era in two seasons that were affected by COVID. 

"If we look over two years of the Conte era, we have second place in Serie A and the title won several weeks in advance, and have also reached the Europa League final.

"We certainly hope to continue together even during these difficulties."

Inter have asked players to accept a pay cut as part of a cost-cutting exercise, while the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez have been linked with moves away.

But Marotta insists the pre-existing contracts already in place will be respected by Inter should the players reject the club's request.

"Everything started with a meeting with the president, who explained the current moment football is experiencing with maximum serenity," he said.

"Zhang made the players aware of the delicate position the club is in, but he didn't oblige anyone [to take wage cuts]. It's up to everyone to make a decision with their conscience. 

"We have full respect for the players who have given the club an extraordinary joy this season. I'll repeat: Inter will honour all their agreements."

Marotta was speaking ahead of Inter's meeting with Roma on Wednesday, which the Nerazzurri won 3-1 to make it a club-record extending 15 home league victories in a row.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan pulled a goal back for Roma after midfield pair Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino had given Inter a two-goal advantage in a lively first half at San Siro.

But Lukaku's 22nd Serie A goal of the campaign - only Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo with 28 has more - tapped in late on to seal a first home win against Roma since 2015.

With that goal, Lukaku became the fourth Inter player to score at least 15 goals at home in a single Serie A season in the last 45 years, after Christian Vieri (19 in 2002-03), Diego Milito (17 in 2011-12) and Mauro Icardi (16 in 2016-17 and in 2017-18).

The game was a milestone occasion for Conte, who was taking charge of his 100th Inter match in all competitions since arriving at the start of last season.

He has won 63 of those games, which is the most of any coach in their first 100 games with the Nerazzurri since 1929-30.

Conte did not speak to reporters before or after the game, but assistant Cristian Stellini praised his players for their attitude to see off Roma with the Scudetto already sealed.

"It's always good when you play with this desire and fighting spirit," he said at the post-match news conference. 

"There was a little tension, but we managed to make it 15 wins in a row at San Siro.

"Nothing changes after winning the title. You have to continue with the same mentality and attitude, although we can play with a little more happiness."

One blemish for Inter was losing Alexis Sanchez to an apparent ankle sprain before half-time, but Stellini is expecting the forward to make a swift return to action in time for the weekend trip to Juventus.

"He took a blow to his ankle and lost a bit of sensitivity, so he wanted to come off," the Inter assistant said. "We think we can get him back for the next match in Turin."

Antonio Conte claimed he has made Inter's players much more valuable in the transfer market as he urged them to turn winning into "an obsession".

Inter's Serie A title celebrations continued on Saturday with a 5-1 thrashing of Sampdoria at San Siro as they were given a guard of honour by their opponents before kick-off.

The win was Inter's 14th consecutive victory at home – a new club record – as two goals from Alexis Sanchez and one apiece from Roberto Gagliardini, Andrea Pinamonti and Lautaro Martinez put the gloss on stylish performance.

Conte ended Juventus' Serie A dominance by delivering the Nerazzurri's first title in 11 years and he also reckoned his coaching has made Inter's players worth more.

He told Sky Italia: "I think the work we've done over two years has made a big difference, as the squad improved not only on the pitch, but also in terms of transfer value.

"The team is now considerably more valuable than it was when I took over, and so I think investing in my experience has paid off.

"I always knew my arrival would bring certain expectations. I feel those expectations have now been met.

"These lads can still grow further, they can improve in terms of mentality especially, but they are winners and they know what it is they have to do.

"Since we went to the top of the table, we've left absolutely nothing to chance. Zero. We didn't ease off for a moment, not even today.

"I always said victory has to become an obsession for a winner, like a drug that they need. There's Roma next, let's take it one step at a time and always try to get the best out of every game."

The victory over Sampdoria was Conte's 136th in his 200th Serie A game as a manager – no other coach has won as many in the three-points-for-a-win era.

However, the 51-year-old once again deflected questions about his future at Inter despite leading the club to their first Scudetto since their treble-winning campaign in 2009-10.

Conte's contract expires in 2022 but his position is uncertain amid doubts over Inter's financial situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

"I am here to talk about the present, not the future. We know how hard we worked, how much we suffered, so we need to enjoy this moment," Conte said.

"Over two years, we brought back credibility to Inter, the club, the team and the fans. I've missed my chance to celebrate too many times in my life, this time I want to enjoy it to the full. As for the rest, we'll see."

Inter notched up a club record 14 consecutive home wins in Serie A as two goals from Alexis Sanchez gave them a 5-1 win over Sampdoria on Saturday.

The recently-crowned Serie A champions took the lead in the fourth minute when Roberto Gagliardini guided the ball beyond Emil Audero.

Sanchez gave a reminder of his quality with a classy finish to increase Inter's lead before ex-Inter man Antonio Candreva pulled a goal back for Sampdoria.

Another fine finish from Sanchez made it 3-1 heading into half-time before Antonio Conte's side put a deserved gloss on the result with a clinical goal from Andrea Pinamonti and a Lautaro Martínez penalty.

Inter were serenaded by their fans outside San Siro and given a guard of honour by Sampdoria's players before kick-off having secured their first Scudetto in 11 years last weekend.

The Nerazzurri were quickly into their stride on the pitch and went ahead when Matias Vecino stole possession to setup a counterattack which culminated in Gagliardini sliding in to direct Ashley Young's cross into the net.

Achraf Hakimi almost scored a dazzling individual goal with a run from his own penalty area only to be denied by a fingertip save by the diving Audero.

Inter's second goal arrived just before the half hour when Sampdoria were again caught on the break as Gagliardini's clever pass found Sanchez who steered the ball home in style.

Sampdoria pulled a goal back moments later when Samir Handanovic was deceived by Candreva's miscued shot and tamely allowed the ball over the line.

Inter responded immediately with a piece of precise finishing from Sanchez, who met Hakimi's cross and found the corner of the net with a clipped finish from the just inside the box.

Conte's men were ruthless after the break as Pinamonti scored his first Inter goal in Serie A when he controlled an awkward ball and crisply dispatched it beyond Audero.

Sampdoria's Adrien Silva was deemed to have handled inside the area following a VAR check and Martinez fired the resulting spot-kick high into the net.

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