Its derby day in Milan on Saturday and Inter boss Antonio Conte is facing a player crisis with a portion of his first-team squad currently in isolation due to COVID-19. Paddy Power has learned however, that the former Chelsea tactician has been working frantically behind the scenes during the international break to try to get a short-term fix.
Having already gone back to the Premier League to bring the likes of Ashley Young, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Victor Moses to the San Siro, we understand that the man many Italian football fans refer to as “Il Gobbi” (the hunchback)- a term used to describe anyone associated with Juventus – has returned to England to try (unsuccessfully) to hoover up these Premier League misfits.
Only a few years ago John Stones was referred to as the new Bobby Moore after his big money move to Manchester City from Everton, but then Pep Guardiola arrived at The Etihad, realised that most English centre-halves were sh*t and promptly sent the boy from Barnsley to train with the stiffs.
Naturally, this drained the England international of any confidence and since then, whenever he has been given a first-team start in the League Cup or Champions League dead rubber, he’s looked more like Hollywood actress Demi Moore than the 1966 World Cup winning captain.
This has not deterred Conte however and following Chris Smalling’s return to Roma from Manchester United on a permanent deal, the Italian has reportedly been trying to twist City’s arm asking them to effectively lend him the 26-year-old on a pay-as-you-play basis. The deal apparently fell through when club owners The Suning Group apparently looked at their bank balance and could only offer the Citizens £5.99 plus vouchers for a McDonalds Happy Meal.
Sixties TV show Man in a Suitcase is probably the best way to describe Leicester City striker Islam Slimani. The 32-year-old Algerian has spent the past few seasons clocking up the air miles as The Foxes tried their best to offload him to the likes of Turkish giants Fenerbahce and Ligue 1 side Monaco, but just like a boomerang, he keeps coming back to the King Power.
Conte its understood, has been calling his opposite number Brendan Rogers at all hours of the day to try to strike a deal to bring the player to Serie A, but sources close to the former Liverpool and Celtic tactician have stated that he was not prepared to let one of his players, no matter how useless, sign for someone with whiter teeth than himself.
So the story goes that Conte, for reasons known only to him, was watching an episode of Harry’s Heroes – the one where the lads go to play San Marino and he spots this English guy with a seriously fake suntan getting involved in a game of ancient Florentine violence called Calcio Storico.
Conte was apparently so impressed with the former Aston Villa star’s performance that he made a note of the name in case of emergencies and late last week, when his players were dropping like flies to the pandemic, he set about trying to track him down.
When he finally did make contact with the 43-year-old, he reportedly offered him the chance to head over to Inter’s training complex at Appiano Gentile where he could “get a real suntan”. Hendrie, who managed only one cap for his country, was all set to pack his bags, but then the spoilsports at Sky put the kybosh on it by explaining that next week was a pivotal one in the EFL Trophy and that he was needed as a pundit. Failure to turn up would mean that he was in breach of his contract and that he would lose his entitlement to unlimited use of the facilities at Tantasy Island tanning studios in Birmingham.
Almost at the half-century mark, former Dutch international Winston Bogarde knows Milan like the back of his hand having played three times for Inter’s city rivals in 1997. In four years at Stamford Bridge between 2000 and 2004 he only played six more for Chelsea, preferring to warm the bench and pick up litter in the dressing-room for 40K-a-week rather than actually spend time out on the pitch with another club.
Conte has a defensive crisis ahead of Saturday’s showdown and figured that Bogarde, who hung up his (hardly worn) boots after seeing out his lucrative contract in West London, must still be in fairly decent condition. The last sighting of the player was out on the training pitch at Ajax where he was in charge of the reserve team (hardly a good role model I’ll think you’ll agree), but when Conte touched base to ask about his availability he was promptly told to f*ck off because some people have long memories and Bogarde still carries the scars of being an Ajax player beaten by Conte’s Juve in the 1996 Champions League Final.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and despite having his wages paid by the modern day version of Winston Bogarde – Mesut Ozil – sources close to Arsenal have revealed to us that Conte has been in contact with club mascot Gunnersaurus over a shock switch to Serie A.
It’s believed the Italian, who is insistent that it’s actually the former German international who is inside the costume, has told club bosses that he believes he can get at least 20 minutes out of him and that it would be good to have him on the bench in case Lukaku tests positive on the eve of the game. Reports suggest that Gunnersaurus is open to an eleventh-hour switch although his agent is thought to be also considering offers from Fulham and Sheffield United.
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