The birth of Football Club Internazionale
“This wonderful night bestows us with the colours of our crest: black and azure against a gilded backdrop of stars. It shall be called International because we are brothers of the world”.
March 9, 1908, Milan
112 years ago, a club named Football Club Internazionale was formed following their schism with the Milan Football and Cricket Club – today’s AC Milan. The name of the club derives from the wish of its founding members to accept foreign players without limits as well as Italians. The club won its very first championship in 1910 and it’s second in 1920. In 1922, Inter was at risk of relegation to the second division, but they remained in the top league after winning two play-offs.
Change of name and shirt
Six years later, during the Fascist era, the club was forced to merge with the Unione Sportiva Milanese and was renamed Società Sportiva Ambrosiana. During the 1928-29 season, the team wore white jerseys with a red cross emblazoned on it; the jersey’s design was inspired by the flag and coat of arms of the city of Milan.
In 1929, the new club chairman Oreste Simonotti changed the club’s name to Associazione Sportiva Ambrosiana and restored the previous black-and-blue jerseys, however supporters continued to call the team Inter, and in 1931 new chairman Pozzani caved into shareholder pressure and changed the name to Associazione Sportiva Ambrosiana-Inter.
The era of Giuseppe Meazza
Their first Coppa Italia (Italian Cup) was won in 1938–39, led by the iconic Giuseppe Meazza, after whom the San Siro stadium is officially named.
A fifth championship followed in 1940, despite Meazza incurring an injury. After the end of World War II the club regained its original name, winning its sixth championship in 1953 and it’s seventh in 1954.
Helenio Herrera arrives in Milan
In 1960, manager Helenio Herrera joined Inter from Barcelona, bringing with him his midfield master Luis Suarez, who won the European Footballer of the Year in the same year for his role in Barcelona’s La Liga. He would transform Inter into one of the greatest teams in Europe.
He would exploit the 5–3–2 formations quite smartly, known as the “Verrou” (door bolt) which created greater flexibility for counterattacks – a modification of the original Catenaccio invented by the Austrian coach Karl Rappan, where four defenders were fixed man-markers. Herrera would add an extra defender with the four – he acted as a libero along with the attackers whereas the full-backs joined the attack in a 3-5-2 formation and this move worked wonders for Inter.
They won back-to-back European Cups in 1964 and 1965, which earned Herrera the title “il Mago” (the Wizard).
In 1967, with Jair gone and Suárez injured, Inter lost the European Cup Final 2–1 to Celtic. During that year the club changed its name to Football Club Internazionale Milano.
70s, 80s, and 90s
After the glory days in the 60s, the following decades were not sparkling enough. There were achievements, but in comparison to their city rivals, AC Milan and other Italian giants like Juventus, AS Roma or Napoli, they meant nothing significant. Inter think-tank did buy big stars and appointed prominent coaches, but the desired results were not coming. Especially, the 90s had been very disappointing.
Things started to improve in the decade after that – they reached the semifinals of UEFA Champions League 2002-03, where they lost to AC Milan by goal difference.
On 8 July 2004, Inter appointed Roberto Mancini as its new head coach. Under his tenure, in his first season, Inter collected 72 points from 18 wins, 18 draws and only two losses, as well as winning the Coppa Italia and later the Supercoppa Italiana.
On May 11, 2006, Inter retained their Coppa Italia title once again after defeating Roma with a 4–1 aggregate victory. Then, Inter were awarded the 2005–06 Serie A championship retrospectively after points were stripped from Juventus and Milan due to the match-fixing scandal that year. During the following season, Inter went on a record-breaking run of 17 consecutive victories in Serie A- starting from September 26, 200 to February 28, 2007. On April 22, 2007, Inter won their second consecutive Scudetto—and first on the field since 1989.
The 2007-08 season started off with a dash for Inter, but as time passed, their performance started to deteriorate. Mancini’s abilities were questioned and he had to leave.
The arrival of the Special One
On June 2, 2008, Inter appointed Jose Mourinho as the new coach.
In his first season, the Nerazzurri won a Suppercoppa Italiana and a fourth consecutive title, though falling in the Champions League in the first knockout round for a third-straight year, losing to eventual finalist Manchester United.
In winning the league title Inter became the first club in the last 60 years to win the title for the fourth consecutive time and joined Torino and Juventus as the only clubs to accomplish this feat, as well as being the first club based outside Turin.
But Mourinho is someone, who would not be satisfied by winning domestic titles only.
He was eyeing for the big title – he was dreaming of becoming the best in Europe and the world.
And in the following year, he made that happen.
Mourinho was dreaming
The world witnessed a Mourinho, who was at his tactical best at the start of the 2009-10 season and as the season progressed, it was becoming difficult for others to overcome the genius of Mourinho.
Football is a game, where more often the attackers are privileged. For most of the decade, attack is the best defence remained the mantra to success for many teams in the world – especially the teams from Latin America. But again, this mindset proved handy against compactness.
10 years ago, the whole world was moved by the tiki-taka-style of Spain and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Busquets, Dani Alves, and co became an irresistible force throughout Europe. Their football was based on pace, fluidity, and style. Big guns like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, AC Milan, and Arsenal were left reeling by Pep’s boys.
Back in Milan, Mourinho was keeping a close eye on what Pep was doing with his team. If he wants to become the best in the world, then the real hurdle would be Barcelona.
The time has come to get out of the shadow of AC Milan.
The smart transfer moves
When Manchester United knocked out Inter in the last 16 of Champions League, Mourinho sensed, a change was needed. So when Guardiola wanted the Nerazzurri’s top-scorer and irrepressible star at the Camp Nou – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it seemed, Inter’s hopes would take a telling blow.
But in the summer of 2009, Jose saw the deal as an opportunity.
He let Ibra go, in exchange for the small matter of £59m and Samuel Eto’o.
He used the funds to buy Diego Milito and Thiago Motta from Genoa, Lucio from Bayern Munich, forward Goran Pandev from Lazio and Wesley Sneijder from Real Madrid.
Such moves did not satisfy anyone, but Mourinho had already started to put the players in the blocks in the right fashion which would pay rich dividends in the coming days.
The tactics of Mourinho
Mourinho planned to build a team, which would not be efficient enough to score goals, but in the meantime, it would be highly efficient to inject compactness within the side, which would help them to disturb the rhythm those, who rely on the free-flowing style of play.
Disciplined in defence and fast during counterattacks – the modern application of Hererra’s Verrou!
His basic formation was 4-2-3-1: The Brazilian legend, Lucio and Walter Samuel formed the central two while the Argentine and club legend Javier Zanetti was positioned at left-back. In the right, another Brazilian, Maicon provided the width as he often joined the attacking players and became the outlet in that flank.
In the center of the park – two pivots were applied; Stankovic/Motta and Cambiasso ensured solidity more than creativity. Two forwards Eto’o and Pandev were deployed wide and Sneijder at 10 completed the attacking trio behind the striker Diego Milito.
One of the most striking aspects of Mourinho’s Inter of 2009-10 was that they way they swiftly changed their shape during transitions: While the team was on the attack the shape formed 4-3-3, with the movements of wide players like Eto’o and Pandev dictated the terms in such situations. Eto’o was more of an inverted winger, who would cut back inside and move upfront to join Milito, while Pandev’s role to keep the width on the left.
With Zanetti and Pandev keeping the left occupied, it allowed Maicon to bombard on the right and link-up with Eto’o. Cambiasso moved a bit deeper to fill the space created by Maicon.
The structure was never altered.
When the opposition attacked, the whole team defended.
Even the likes of Sneijder joined the defence to keep things neat and clean.
The two wingers would drop back in the defensive phase to form the two banks of four. However it became banks of four and five when Sneijder joined the midfield four. The team defended with the 4-5-1 and 4-4-1-1.
The shape varied according to the demand of situation
In the match against Chelsea at San Siro, the midfield transformed into diamond-shaped. Rather than applying two pivots in the center midfield, Mourinho kept Cambiasso in front of defence with Motta and Stankovic on the left and right respectively and Snijder forming the tip of the diamond.
Balotelli was introduced to stay wide to cut short the threats posed by Chelsea’s full-backs and not scoring goals. He did his job perfectly along with Eto’o who did the same from his wider position.
Chelsea lost by 2-1.
Sneijder, the nucleus of the side
The Dutch master was at his best in that season and Inter’s game was decided mostly by his movements. If he started off from the deep, Milito would realize how to advance he should be whereas, Stankovic and Cambiasso stayed a tad deeper with Maicon following the course of Snijder.
When Sneijder ran straight in that center attacking position to aid Milito, Pandev and Eto’o followed his course and covered a wide range of areas to aid Milito as Sneijder used to pause after passing the ball to the flanks.
When Sneijder occupied the space behind Eto’o to aid Cambiasso, Maicon advanced forward with Eto’o moving closer to Milito. Pandev stayed wide to provide width.
Again, Sneijder exhibited, he possessed the ball-winning-back qualities that was much needed for a classic 10.
In most games, Sneijder proved to be the x-factor.
On many occasions, the Dutch was also deployed as a second striker when the team were sent out in a 4-4-2. His ability to take up any positions in the final third became very important for the side as he became an integral part of the counter-attacking plans.
Sneijder was just the nucleus of that Inter side – the number 10.
The Sneijder and Cambiasso duo – orchestrators of counterattacks
The combination of Sneijder and Cambiasso was responsible for the transitions – from defence to attack and vice versa. Their quick exchange of positions and link-ups opened the opportunities to counter.
Cambiasso flourished under Mourinho. He was playing the role which Desailly played at Athens in 1994 against Barcelona. he was adept in playing long balls finding Eto’o who would be stationed in the flanks. In other cases, Zanetti would play the pass to Sneijder who would then find Milito or the forwards who cut in from the wing.
The counter-attacking basically not only depended on Cambiasso’s ability to pick a long pass but also the attacking skillset of Sneijder at the classic 10. Sneijder’s job was mainly based on collecting the ball from midfield and find Milito or the wide players through his brilliant playmaking skills.
Mourinho stops Messi
One of the most epic dramas of that season was the clash between Inter and Barcelona. It is already mentioned, how good the Barca side was back then.
Mourinho already stunned Pep at San Siro by winning 3-1 and in the return leg at Camp Nou, a Barca come back was expected by all.
Mourinho knew what he had to do to reach the finals.
He decided to squeeze Baca and stop Messi.
In an interview on YouTube Channel The Coaches’ Voice he explained that stopping Messi, who was playing on the right-wing, had to be a group effort involving defensive midfielders Motta and Cambiasso, as well as left-back Zanetti.
They are going to have the ball more than us, much more than us obviously because many many times they were moving the ball without hurting [us] and we must be mentally strong to cope with that,” he said.
“Let them have the ball but not create many chances”.
“The situation for us was very clear, which was [Messi] cannot play alone when he comes in between the lines. So this player here [Cambiasso] must be a player totally in control of this area, always in communication with the left-back”.
“There is a moment where he becomes yours and I stay in the zone but if in a certain moment you are attracted by other positions and Messi goes in these positions in between the lines, you have to decide to go”.
“But then if you decide to go, you have to defend [Dani] Alves. So there is a combination of ideas but basically everything was around not letting Messi play”.
“I remember after the game … in Italy, they were using the word ‘gabbia’, the real translation is like a jail to Messi because in the end we didn’t play man-to-man but Zanetti, Motta, Cambiasso, everybody was responsible for any position that Messi could go”.
Barcelona won by 1-0, but on goal aggregate, Inter advanced to finals after a long time.
In the game, Barcelona completed 555 passes when compared to a staggering 67 passes to Inter. Barca also ended the game as the most dominant display in that year’s competition in terms of possession with 86%. These stats however didn’t matter much for Mourinho as he out-smarted the sharpest brains of that time – Pep Guardiola.
After the final whistle and excited Mourinho ran into the field and expressed his joy in front of the Barcelona crowd.
He knew he was a few inches away from achieving glory.
The final was in Madrid. As usual, the atmosphere was electrifying. The opponent – Bayern Munich were like a bulldozer. They had the players who could crush anyone easily on the big stage and big occasion. But Mourinho and his boys were in a momentum. Their agility and compactness blew away Bayern at Santiago Bernabeu – Diego Milito struck twice and then Bayern could not overcome the solidity of Mourinho’s men.
The final whistle brought each and every member of Inter in tears. The moment was not about tactical or mind games, but it was about letting the emotion flow. Outside the stadium, Mourinho and Marco Materazzi were seen welling their eyes. Lucio, Maicon, Sneijder, Cambiasso, Eto’o, Stankovic, Pandev, and Milito – all of them were crying – it was the tear of joy.
Inter also won the 2009–10 Serie A title by two points over Roma, and the 2010 Coppa Italia by defeating the same side 1–0 in the final.
This made Inter the first Italian team to win Treble.
They would win the FIFA Club World Cup as well.
At the end of the season, Florentino Perez would bring Mourinho at Bernabeu to change the fortune of Los Blancos and he proved his worth there as well.