MILAN — Winless in eight matches, even the hardcore fans are walking out on Inter Milan.
The Italian team, which won the Champions League title in 2010, has been struggling this year and is currently working under its fourth coach since August.
On Sunday, fan fury boiled over when many of the most ardent supporters walked out during a 2-1 loss to Sassuolo.
"Since you don’t deserve our support, today we’re saluting you and going to eat," read a banner unfurled by the "ultras" at the San Siro with the score still 0-0 in the 20th minute. The remaining fans applauded.
The final result of that match left Inter in eighth place and unlikely to qualify for the Europa League, let alone the Champions League.
"The fans have their reasons. They don’t like this situation and you can accept that," said Stefano Vecchi, the youth team coach who took over the men’s team from the fired Stefano Pioli. "Inter is Inter and the team has to be better than seventh or eighth place. It’s to be expected that they show their displeasure."
Inter next plays Lazio on Sunday in its penultimate match, and then faces Udinese.
Roberto Mancini had been Inter coach heading into the season but he surprisingly resigned weeks before it started. Frank de Boer guided the club until November, when Pioli was hired.
Former Inter President Massimo Moratti said he wasn’t surprised to see Pioli go.
"It would have been useless to keep him," Moratti said. "It’s a decision also not to set an example that a coach who doesn’t win for seven games still stays anyway."
Now under Chinese ownership, Inter’s main task now is to find a permanent coach.
Antonio Conte is reportedly at the top of the wish list, although it would be difficult to entice the former Juventus and Italy coach away from Chelsea, which he has just led to the Premier League title.
However, while Conte’s wife and young daughter continue to live in Italy, speculation around his future will swirl, and Inter owner Suning has reportedly put together a package to tempt him to move back.
Other names in the mix include Diego Simeone, who has publicly said he is ready to start planning next season at Atletico Madrid, while Mauricio Pochettino has said he is staying at Tottenham.
The most likely candidate looks to be Roma coach Luciano Spalletti, who is set to leave at the end of the season.
"Any choice is possible. Of course the coach is very important for a team," Suning vice-president Steven Zhang said in an interview with CNBC. "We need people, players and management who really stay … and play for the club with their heart and spirit.
"When we talk about plan for next season it’s not really the mentality that I’m thinking about. I’m more thinking about where is the club going in three years, five years, 10 years."