Steve Nicol believes the manner in which Inter Milan have kept suitors away from Ivan Perisic is a model for other clubs to follow.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround for Ivan Perisic. Barely 18 months ago, he was a winger who strutted around on the left without doing much in Roberto Mancini’s team, certainly not enough to justify his €16 million price tag.

Then came a Coppa Italia fixture against Juventus, where the former Wolfsburg man dazzled throughout 120 blistering minutes, helping Inter stage an unlikely three-goal comeback. From there on, Perisic was a different player, showcasing the pace, dribbling and eye for goal that fans had always craved.

In the 16 months of Serie A action since, Perisic has netted 16 goals, including decisive strikes against AC Milan and Juventus (again) last season. He did so well, in fact, to earn attention from Manchester United, who made a concerted effort to sign the 28-year-old this summer.

Inter, though, refused to accept anything below €55m, and ended up holding onto their man. The winger has now signed an extension until 2022 that will reportedly make him the second-best paid player in the squad with a salary amounting to €4m a year.

Whether that was the right move is a matter of debate. Just a few weeks ago, many observers would have taken it for granted that Perisic was heading to United, and there was nothing inherently wrong with that. The Croatia international is nearing 30, after all, and it felt like the reported €45m bid was a good price for a very good — but not great — winger, especially one who wanted out.

Yet it may well be that keeping Perisic was the wisest decision after all: for a start, selling him to United would have sent the wrong message, only one year after Suning took ownership of the club. With Inter forced to curtail investments because of the Chinese government, it would have felt like an insult to sell Perisic just to buy players when a whopping €30m had been wasted only months before on Gabigol.

Ivan Perisic joined Inter from Wolfsburg in 2015 and took time to show his potential in Italy.

The refusal to sell him also brought memories of the summer of 2016, when Napoli tried to sign Mauro Icardi. Inter needed to persuade the world that they weren’t a selling club or a stepping stone anymore, but a destination, or at the very least a team that put up a fight before selling. And that’s what they did.

Now, after refusing to sell Perisic too, the Nerazzurri will either get the winger in his prime or be able to sell him for a price of their choosing, as no clause was inserted into the deal, despite his entourage’s efforts.

And let’s face it, €45m doesn’t buy a lot these days. Inter’s reported alternatives — if you can call them that — to replace him had included Anthony Martial, who didn’t want to leave Manchester, and Keita Balde, who hasn’t got on well with either Lazio or Barcelona.

At the end of the day, keeping Perisic and forgoing the decent payday might just be the price of stability. Instead of having to develop and integrate someone else, the Nerazzurri are getting someone who has improved from year one to year two. Third-season dips aren’t typical, either. Perisic scored 11 goals last season, and his contribution only declined when the entire squad lost faith late on.

New coach Luciano Spalletti has worked well with roving wingers in the past, too, something Perisic himself recognized when he signed on Friday: “For a long time I kept my counsel, and now I can say that Spalletti told me that I could be an even better version of myself here,” he said.

As hard a worker as Perisic is, he does have to improve in some areas: his dribbling, as previously discussed, is not the best, and the fact that he can be wasteful in front of goal.

Strangely, this may have something to do with Antonio Candreva — Perisic actually has the talent to take risks, and to make them worthwhile if he fails. What the Croatian needs is to have a reliable winger at the other end; if Candreva can cut out some of his shoddy crossing, Inter could have a winning combo.

Chances are that we’ve not seen the best of Perisic yet. Those full-backs coming up against him in the weeks and months to come will certainly hope that isn’t the case.

Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.


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