The recent form of Ivan Perisic has been a source of discussion and frustration among Interisti. Indeed, the Croatian winger seems to have almost completely lost the offensive arsenal of shots, crosses and dribbles that made him a constant attacking threat and one of the squad’s main contributors of goals and assists since his arrival back in 2015. While in the past two seasons he achieved double digits in both statistics in the league, this year he’s stuck on 2 goals and 2 assists going into the 15th matchday. Spalletti’s unwavering insistence on starting Perisic in most matches and against all of the more challenging opponents has compounded supporters’ frustration with the player’s form with anger towards the manager’s apparent lack of flexibility or, some would go as far as to say, unjust favouritism in squad choices.
Furthermore, although transfer market rumours regarding Perisic never wholly subsided, having become insistent once already in the summer of 2017, discussions over his possible departure have flared up again after the winger once again expressed his desire to one day play in England’s Premier League. Overall, Perisic has been spending the last few weeks under quite a negative spotlight.
First of all, I’m not wholly convinced by the criticism moved by many against Perisic, for his performance, and Spalletti, for his insistence on playing the former. The reasons why I think both deserve some understanding are obviously connected and rooted in Perisic’s impressive defensive contribution. You may have noticed how I specifically highlighted the worsening of Perisic’s offensive effectiveness: while that has indubitably declined, his work when not in possession has been significant and crucial for the team’s equilibrium, to the extent where at times he seemed to be playing more as a wingback than a true winger. It can be said that this isn’t worth the offensive loss and that Spalletti is simply denaturing the player, but wingers that are willing to track back like Perisic does are crucial in his system and provide the balance he values greatly, contributing to Inter’s defensive solidity under the Tuscan coach.
This was particularly true in the recent match against Roma: Spalletti went for an exceptionally offensive and technical midfield, with Borja Valero and Joao Mario playing together, that provided much less cover in front of the defensive line. The difference was felt and Inter gave up two goals along with a few chances to the Giallorossi, while Perisic was often the quickest and most willing to assist Brozovic in his defensive screening. Keita Baldé, who had a great offensive performance and scored the opening goal, was less attentive defensively, as can be seen in the play that led to Roma’s first equaliser, at a time when Keita was playing on Inter’s left: the Senegalese winger is slightly late in closing down on his Turkish counterpart, who receives the ball and turns towards the penalty box without pressure.
Situations like these give some insight into Perisic’s contribution and Spalletti’s choices, even though they don’t wholly justify the Croatian’s nosedive in offensive contribution and quality. Perisic’s world cup, although it was extremely fatiguing, is also starting to lose its value as a justification, as his form for Inter actually seems to have actually worsened since the start of the season, while his performances for the national team are often of a higher standard. This could point to motivation issues or to a careful control of energetic expense due to his age and intense style of play. Both could be sensible reasons to consider a sale.
Indeed, the clues are starting to stack up in regards to Perisic’s potential departure in the summer. First, if his mind really is wandering towards the Premier League, then the best strategy is probably to ensure it remains firmly planted in Milan for the next few months and to let it wander freely northwards, together with Perisic himself and his sporting services, in June. Perisic’s age also points towards the beginnings of his decline and further supports the idea of a separation, after he has spent the best years of his career at Inter. Besides, the Premier League, in addition to being the player’s preferred destination, is also Inter’s best chance to record a hefty plus sign in the books with Perisic’s sale.
This brings us to the more financial aspect of the potential move: Inter will finally be free of its four year long settlement agreement with UEFA in July, but first the club must achieve break even once again by the end of June. And while the commercial side will certainly see a rise in revenue thanks to the Champions League, on the sporting side it could be a bit harder for Sporting Director Piero Ausilio to pull off the youth transfer magic of recent years, both because of the Primavera team’s underwhelming results up to this point and simply because it’s a difficult operation to orchestrate for three years straight. Ceding a more important and valuable player would certainly simplify things, and Perisic’s relatively slow cost, which by now has been amortised to very low in the books, could result in a significant gain. Furthermore, Beppe Marotta, likely to be Inter’s new CEO, is famous for embracing the strategy of selling big to buy big, often sacrificing important players at Juventus to chase other transfers.
Overall, I’ve deeply appreciated Perisic during his time at Inter: he’s been a protagonist of the team in a period of growth and improvement, contributing crucially to both with enthusiasm and sacrifice, talking little while doing a lot. A number of factors, though, suggest the time to say goodbye might be coming shortly. His departure, although painful, would be less painful than others and could reveal itself to be a deft financial move, advantageous to both Inter and Perisic himself.
Written By: Giacomo Locati