Not so long ago, Inter Milan were the kings of Europe. Jose Mourinho made Italian football history when in charge of the Nerazzurri, winning the first ever treble in the nation’s history in 2010. Their domestic stranglehold was nothing to write home about at the time, with traditional rivals Juventus still on the road to recovery following the ‘calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal four years earlier. Winning the Champions League, though, was probably the crowning achievement in Mourinho’s illustrious career.
It was their first European Cup triumph since 1965, returning them to their rightful place in the eyes of the many Interisti. It came as something of a surprise, too, with Mourinho masterminding victories over more traditional powerhouses, recently at least, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, in the semi-final and final respectively.
That was mainly because of the players that the other sides had at their disposal, particularly Barcelona who, under Pep Guardiola, were rewriting history as probably the greatest football team in the world ever. Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were all at the peak of their powers in the most amazing Catalan era.
But Inter’s tradition was never questioned, nor was their ambition. and many believed winning the Champions League should never have taken as long as it did. During the 1990s especially, when Serie A was the place to play football in Europe, the blue and black half of the San Siro, as well as the red and black of city rivals Milan, was home to some of the world’s best ever players. Their UEFA Cup win in 1998, spearheaded by the great Ronaldo, is a testament to that.
Mourinho was able to call upon some world-class talent, too. Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder had been tossed aside by Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively after varying levels of success in Spain, but the went on to shine under the Portuguese coach famed for making his teams feel like family. Meanwhile, Diego Milito, the other standout performer from that campaign, proved he could mix it at the very highest level after spells with the likes of Real Zaragoza and Genoa.
And how can we forget the linchpin of so many Inter sides over the years, Javier Zanetti. The Argentine defender led by example and was a befitting recipient of club football’s most famous trophy that night at the Santiago Bernabeu, after a 2-0 win over Bayern, seven years ago.
Trouble may have been bubbling under the surface at that point, but it has certainly overwhelmed the club since. Mismanagement after Mourinho’s departure that summer has led to missing out on the Champions League for the last six years. Nine managers have come and gone, and while the club’s ambition has never wavered, a new approach was needed.
The new age revolution?
Ownership has changed hands a couple of times since President of 17 years, Massimo Moratti, was in charge. Chinese investors have restored hope of a brighter future for Inter in the coming years, and under current boss Stefano Piolo, there is real promise within the squad.
It has taken time because over the years of decline the club’s mentality changed. They were no longer all-conquering; their fans were deserting them and they were, frankly, a complete mess. But a new look, young side is breathing fresh life into the club, just a matter of months after Pioli stepped in following Frank de Boer’s disastrous 85-day reign at the helm.
There is something quite ironic about that, because it was the Dutchman, after winning five successive Eredivisie titles with Ajax, who was supposed to usher in the new start that would have propelled Inter to the top. Instead, Pioli has taken on that role, with a bright young bunch of players at his disposal.
Previously defining the recent issues at Inter, captain Mauro Icardi is reborn. It seemed as though the cracks between the 24-year-old striker and the club’s most hardcore fans could not be mended after he criticised them in his autobiography. On the face of it, at least, that trouble is in the past and Icardi has scored 20 goals in just 27 Serie A games this season.
Behind him, Geoffrey Kondogbia, the £30million midfielder once thought of as a flop after signing from Sevilla in 2014, is reborn, sitting next to Roberto Gagliardini, a January signing from Atalanta whose rise to the top has been as quick as it has been impressive. Through signings like these and Joao Mario, Portugal’s Euro 2016-winning midfield general who has flourished in a system that has offered him freedom this season, Inter are showing they mean business and will be back at the top in the very near future.
Clubs are targeting the likes of winger Ivan Perisic, playmaker Marcelo Brosovic and dynamic central defender Jeison Murillo. While Gabigol, the Brazilian striker dubbed the ‘new Ronaldo’, is one of the most exciting signings in recent times and still has a promising future ahead despite a difficult start in Italy.
Everything is progressing rather nicely. Inter are fifth in the table ahead of their clash with Sampdoria on Monday. Champions League qualification may be a step too far this season, as they trail third place Napoli by eight points with nine games to go, but the wheels are most definitely in motion.
This is a squad brimming with class, with most at a good age to grow and improve in the blue and black stripes. Quality has never been an issue for the Nerazzurri but the past must be looked at, from a negative and positive point of view, if they are to grow further. The problems seem a thing of the past, but the bar for success has already been set and Pioli’s men will one day look to emulate that success of Jose Mourinho’s 2010 masterpiece.