Barcelona & Juventus join forces to get Lautaro out of Inter

The Argentine forward has played a key role in the Nerazzurri closing the gap on the Serie A champions and is now the Blaugrana’s number one target.

It did not come as a surprise to learn that Giorgio Chiellini was engrossed by ‘The Last Dance’, the recently released Netflix documentary on Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.

Of Juventus‘ current crop of players, it is their captain who arguably best personifies the club’s ethos: “Winning is not important – it’s the only thing that counts.”

Therefore, Jordan’s ruthless, ‘the ends justifies the means’ approach to professional sport was always going to resonate with Chiellini, who caused controversy last week by writing of his hatred of Inter in his autobiography, ‘Io, Giorgio’.

The centre-half promptly tried to explain his attitude towards the Nerazzurri by referencing Jordan, who stated in ‘The Last Dance’ that his “hatred” of the Bulls’ first great adversaries, the Detroit Pistons, endures to this day.

“I think people understand what I mean and I don’t wish to be misinterpreted,” Chiellini told La Repubblica. “I hate Inter in a sporting way just as Michael Jordan hates the Pistons.

“I can’t help but hate Inter, but 99.9 per cent of the time that I met up with players off the field after we tore each other to shreds on it, we could have a good laugh.

“In fact, when I injured my knee last year, the message that gave me the most pleasure was from (former Inter captain and current vice-president) Javier Zanetti.

Sporting hatred is what pushes you on to beat a rival and, if given the right meaning, is an essential component of sport.”

Chiellini’s view was not shared by everyone. Indeed, Zdenek Zeman – who, it must be acknowledged, has a long and fractious history with Juve – felt it distasteful to speak of hatred having a place in football.

Of course, Chiellini was referring to the way in which a great rivalry can push adversaries to even greater heights – but whether “sporting hatred” really belongs in the game is highly debatable.

Still, there is no doubt that it remains prevalent. Indeed, that Chiellini’s original comments caused such controversy in Italy was surprising in itself.

There is no hiding or even downplaying the animosity that exists between Juve and Inter, which has only intensified since the Calciopoli refereeing scandal of 2006, which saw the Bianconeri relegated and stripped of two titles – one of which was awarded to Inter.

Juve continue to count those revoked Scudetti on their honours list and remain bitter over what they believe to be the perceived injustice of Calciopoli, an affair that they claim Inter were just as caught up in.

The Nerazzurri have repeatedly stated otherwise, though, and, unsurprisingly, have taken a dim view of Juve’s lost Scudetti stance.

Only last month, ex-Inter defender Marco Materazzi was asked how much he hated Juventus. His response? “A lot.”

Even some Interisti have still not fully accepted the presence of two former ‘Bianconeri’ at their club: Beppe Marotta and Antonio Conte.

Indeed, when Marotta made it clear that ex-captain Mauro Icardi had no future at San Siro last year, conspiracy theorists had a field day, claiming that the Inter CEO was a double agent trying to help former club Juve sign the Nerazzurri’s star striker.

Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio publicly scoffed at the idea of selling Icardi to Juve and it was undoubtedly a ludicrous suggestion, not least because Marotta is now viewed as a foe rather than a friend by the Bianconeri.

Indeed, Juventus are willing to do whatever it takes – within the rules of the game – to stop Marotta and Conte enjoying as much success in Milan as they did working together in Turin.

As Goal has learned, the reigning Serie A champions are open to helping Barcelona sign Lautaro Martinez because it would significantly diminish Inter’s hopes of ending Juve’s domination of Serie A.

The Catalans have identified the Argentine as the ideal replacement for ageing centre-forward Luis Suarez, but Martinez’s buy-out clause is €111 million (£97m/$121m) – too great a sum for a club with cash-flow problems that pre-date the coronavirus outbreak.

Consequently, Barca have to get creative and are now hoping to send Nelson Semedo to Manchester City in exchange for Joao Cancelo, a player that Inter would love to bring back to San Siro. So, the Blaugrana believe that they could use the Portugal international to reduce their outlay on Martinez.

Of course, such a deal would leave Barca without a right-back, which is where Juventus come in.

The Bianconeri are willing to let Mattia De Sciglio move to Camp Nou as it would not only boost their hopes of swapping Miralem Pjanic for Barca midfielder Arthur, it would also significantly weaken Inter.

If the Serie A season does resume next month, it is Lazio who are best-placed to deny Juventus a ninth consecutive Scudetto, with the Biancocelesti just one point behind the leaders.

However, Inter – who sit third, nine points off top spot with a game in hand – represent a greater, more long-term threat to Juve’s supremacy than Simone Inzaghi’s surprise title-challengers.

The Nerazzurri are the bigger, richer club and are now in possession of one of the best coaches in the world in Conte, and arguably the game’s canniest transfer market operator in Marotta.

The pair were arguably the key factors in Juve’s re-emergence as the major force in Italian football – and the Bianconeri are rightly concerned about them replicating their success at San Siro.

However, losing Lautaro would be a body blow for the Nerazzurri. The 22-year-old has gone to another level this season, forming a formidable partnership with Romelu Lukaku that undoubtedly has the potential to become one of the most potent in world football.

Lautaro is as industrious as he is dynamic, which is precisely why Messi wants his compatriot at Camp Nou – and why Juventus would like to help get him there.

As a source close to the Bianconeri told Goal, “Inter are the closest competitors to Juve. They have the most money, the most ambition, the most stability and the best organisation.

“There’s no doubt that, in the past year, Inter have improved a lot and are getting closer to Juventus, thanks to the arrivals of Marotta, Conte and great players like Lukaku.

“So, are Juve now afraid of Inter? Yes, absolutely. It’s only normal, then, that Juve would try to hurt Inter in the transfer market whatever way they can.”

Indeed, while it may not be particularly noble, it is wholly unsurprising.

Just like Jordan’s duals with Detroit, Juve’s rivalry with Inter is now fraught with “sporting hatred”. And set to make for just as compelling viewing in the years to come.