With the days ebbing away on his contract, Hakan Çalhanoğlu was not short of options. After a season in which he had helped guide his club to its best league finish in seven years, the prospective free agent, who having just turned 27 should be hitting his prime over the coming months, had interest in Italy and beyond.
Top Premier League clubs were intrigued by a player who had created more chances in the 2020-21 Serie A season than anyone else, averaging 3.33 shooting opportunities made for teammates per 90 minutes. There were further links with the biggest Spanish clubs while Juventus were also said to be monitoring the situation. Then there was the chance to stay in Milan, which Çalhanoğlu chose, in a manner of speaking.
Switching to Inter Milan after playing for their rivals AC Milan is not a decision to be taken lightly, but it did not take Çalhanoğlu long to decide that donning the black and blue of the Nerazzurri was exactly the right choice for this pivotal moment in his career. Inter were, he says, the "only ones" to give him the sort of attention that sways a player to make this sort of move.
"The big difference with Inter was the attention of Piero [Ausilio, sporting director of Inter] and of the coach [Simone Inzaghi]," Çalhanoğlu tells CBS Sports. "They called me a few times, I was feeling really important and that's why I decided so fast to come here to Inter.
"The first call from Inzaghi was very important for me to come here. His attention to me was very important, I feel important as well. I believe in him, what he did in the last years for Lazio and I believe in what he will give for us at Inter this year to help the team grow more and more.
"Piero called me a lot of times as well. He was really saying important things to me to convince me. I said ,'Yeah, with these objectives that they have I have to.' For me personally, the most important thing was the attention they gave me. I want to stay in Italy. I know the language. Inter has big objectives. They have a good team with quality. They play for something. That's why I decided so fast."
Çalhanoğlu struggles to hide his delight at feeling so wanted. Almost without fail he comes back to those conversations with Ausilio and Inzaghi, a charm offensive that clearly paid off. Not only did it convince him to move, but it has the Turkish international dreaming of the silverware that eluded him at Bayer Leverkusen and AC Milan.
He believes his time at Inter can be the sort of fairy tale he can share with his two young children, that and the stunning free kick from near the halfway line he scored as a youngster for Hamburg against Borussia Dortmund in 2014.
"In a few years' time I'll be telling them about Inter and I think how exciting it was to be providing assists for Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez," he says.
"It will be nice. I can't wait to play with Romelu and Lautaro, they're very strong players in front. We need time to know each other, they know each other, but with me, they have to learn my movements. With me, I have to know their movements but I can't wait to play with them and give them assists."
For a player who says he prefers assisting goals to scoring them, there could be few more tempting teammates than Lukaku and Martinez, the former having committed himself to staying at the club despite the financial pressures at the San Siro. Should Inzaghi stick with the back-three system that Inter used under his predecessor Antonio Conte -- which he also employed at Lazio -- then Çalhanoğlu could find himself occupying the space in behind that dynamic strike duo. It is a good place to add to the 19 Serie A assists he has registered in the last two seasons.
Of course, that is a position that might belong to Christian Eriksen but for the tragic events of Euro 2020, where the Inter playmaker suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch. Çalhanoğlu says: "We are waiting for him here in Inter with a big hug. He's a very big player with very big qualities. I respect him a lot and I cannot wait to see him here."
While Inter await the return of Eriksen, there is the matter of preseason to occupy themselves with. Çalhanoğlu joined his new teammates for the first time at the start of this week and could don his new colors for the first time against FC Lugano on Saturday. If not then, his Nerazzurri bow could come against Arsenal in Orlando's Florida Cup on July 25. From there, it is not long until the new Serie A season begins with the visit of Genoa to the San Siro on Aug. 22 on Paramount+.
Though Inter have lost Conte and wing back Achraf Hakimi this summer, they will still be alongside Juventus as the favorites for the Serie A title and will have expectations to improve on their recent form in the Champions League. They have been knocked out in the group stage in each of the past three seasons and have won only one knockout tie since lifting the title in 2010.
"I hope we can repeat again the championship that we won," Çalhanoğlu says. "The other thing I want is to do some big things in the Champions League. I believe in our team, we have very great players with great qualities and I hope with the new coach we do something great."
A Scudetto and European success would certainly give Çalhanoğlu quite the story to share with his family for years to come.