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The Golden Generation of Inter

Sun 27 March 2022 | 4:30

In every football club’s history, you can find times where they hit the rock bottom and struggle to survive, and then there are also times when everything falls into the place and leads to bringing home trophies. This article is about the glorious days of the golden generation of Inter.

In the 9th day of March, 1908, the Football Club Internazionale was founded in Milan, Italy. The founding members of the club were a part of AC Milan before that. But after a dispute within the AC Milan about hiring foreign players – which Milan insisted on focusing on Italian players, the club divided and Inter Milan emerged with having a more international approach hence they named the club Internazionale. Inter started their journey from the top tier of Italian football and up to this day, they are the only club that never got relegated to lower divisions in the history of Italian football.

Even from the early years, Inter showed that they are a winner club. Only two years after the foundation, Inter won its first Serie A title in the 1909-10 season. Although they struggled a bit during the following years, Inter maintained its place in the Italian top flight and added to their Serie titles from time to time. After the second war, Inter Milan cemented its place as one of the big three teams in Italian football alongside Juventus and the city rivals AC Milan. In the following article, we are going to talk about the

best Inter

team

in the recent times which is referred to as the golden generation of Inter.

When Was the Golden Era of Inter Milan?

Inter has won 41 major trophies as of today including 19 Serie A and 3 Champions League titles. Their first golden era was when the Argentinian manager Helenio Herrera joined the club in 1960. Herrera introduced a solid defensive style of football named catenaccio which focused on striking the opponent on rapid counter attacks. That style led to a prosperous era which was dubbed the Grande Inter and led to 3 Serie A titles and two back-to-back European Cup titles which was Inter’s first success at the international level.

A few of Inter legends such as Giacinto Faccetti, Armando Picchi, and

Sandro Mazzola

were a part of the golden generation of Inter during the 1960s. That successful run was followed by a decline in the next decades. The worst days were during early 90s when at one point, Inter even was feeling the danger of getting relegated to Serie B. But things turned around and the foundations of the golden generation of Inter in 2000s started to building up. Now, this is the story of the best Inter team that went on to be the first and as today only Italian team that won a treble. 

A New Dawn with Roberto Mancini

The early 2000s was a painful era for Inter and its fans as they got so close to winning championships on several occasions, but they just couldn’t get over the line one way or another. Despite having world class players on the pitch and well experienced coaches at the dugout, the results were under par and the fans were craving for a trophy. After losing the Scudetto on the last day of 2001-02 season, Inter had a poor start to the 2002-03 season and the Argentinian coach Héctor Cúper got replaced by Alberto Zaccheroni.

Zaccheroni barely secured a Champions League qualification by finishing the league at 4th place but Inter president Massimo Moratti wasn’t satisfied by his Italian coach’s performance and dismissed him at the end of the season. Roberto Mancini, who was at the beginning of his coaching career, was the next man who took the risk of sitting at the Inter’s bench which was proven to be a tough challenge at that stage. As a former player, Mancini was a top-notch attacker who spent the majority of his career at

Sampdoria

’s golden team that won the club’s only league title in 1991.

Roberto Mancini was only 37 years old when he started a coaching career at

Fiorentina

. On his only season at the club, he won the Coppa Italia title and joined Lazio in the following season. Mancini showed great potential at Lazio despite being restricted by the club’s financial crisis. It seemed like winning Coppa Italia was Roberto Mancini’s way to say farewell to his teams and he did that at Lazio in 2004 before joining Inter for the 2004-05 season.

The Italian tactician had a promising start at Inter and won Inter’s first trophy since 1989 by winning against Roma in the Coppa Italia final. In Mancini’s debut season, Inter finished the league sitting at the third place and advanced to Champions League quarter-finals where they lost the tie to AC Milan. Nevertheless, after years of inconsistency, finally Inter was looking like a well-managed team that has a bright future ahead of it thanks to Roberto Mancini. The 2004-05 season, was the turning point in Inter’s journey to create its golden generation in the coming years.

The Calciopoli Scandal

Arguably the 2005-06 season of Serie A, is the most controversial season in Italian football history. The season ended with Juventus winning the league by 91 points, Milan was the runner-up with 88 points and Mancini’s inter finished third with 76 points. But due to the Calciopoli scandal, Juventus got relegated to Serie B as punishment, Milan, Fiorentina, and

Lazio

were docked 30 points as their penalty for involving in the scandal. Therefore, Inter was handed the Serie A title and officially became the champions of Italy for the first time in 17 years and 14th time in its history.

In the same season, Inter also defeated Juventus to the Italian Super Cup title and replicated their Coppa Italia championship by beating Roma in the final for the second year in a row. But that was just the beginning for

the golden generation of Inter

and they were going places with Mancini at the wheel. The 2006-07 season started with Inter being the favorites for the league title as Juventus was playing in Serie B, and Milan started with -8 points as their punishment. But throughout the season, Inter showed that they even didn’t need that advantage to win the league as they utterly dominated the league.  

Conquering the Serie A

During the 2006-07 league campaign, Inter set a historic record by winning 17 league games in row which up to this day, no other team in Serie A has managed to equal to it. Inter won the Scudetto with 97 points losing only one match in the league to the runner-up

Roma

. Inter couldn’t complete the domestic double as they suffered from a humiliating 6-2 loss to Roma in the Coppa Italia’s final first leg and their 2-1 win in the second leg was not a proper answer to that.

Mancini’s fourth season at the club was also a successful one despite losing the Super Cup to Roma at the early stages of the season. Inter continued their great form in the domestic matches and once again, they finished the league at the top but this time with a narrow margin as Rome was only 3 points shy of Inter’s 85 points. The fourth consecutive Inter-Roma Coppa Italia final finished in Roma’s favor. But what made Moratti-Inter president- to look for a new coach was Mancini’s poor results at European front as they got knocked out by Liverpool in the round of 16. 

Arrival of Jose Mourinho

In his four-year tenure at Inter, Roberto Mancini won three consecutive Serie A, two Coppa Italia and two Italian Super Cup trophies. But he never went higher than quarter-finals with Inter in the Champions League and that was why Inter board decided to hire a new coach to guide their golden team to international glories. That was when Jose Mourinho was introduced to the fans as the new head coach of Inter. After winning the Europa League and Champions League with

Porto

, the Portuguese coach had a successful career at Chelsea winning 6 domestic titles with them in the span of 3 years.

Mourinho made a great first impression by winning the domestic Super Cup beating Roma in penalties. In the 2008-09 season, Juventus made its return to the top of the table and challenged Inter for the Scudetto. But Inter didn’t budge and won its fourth league title in succession with 84 points-10 points higher than Juve and Milan on the 2nd and 3rd place. But their European adventure was not satisfying as they got eliminated in the round of 16 for the third time in a row, losing to Manchester United this time.

The Treble Season

Apparently, the best Inter team was not good enough to compete for a European championship. But on his second season at the club, Jose Mourinho was the man on a mission. He aimed for the Inter’s third European Cup/Champions League trophy and at the same time, kept Inter in the pole position in the Scudetto race. After a toe to toe battle with Claudio Ranieri’s Roma, Inter won its 18th and 5th consecutive Serie title right at the last matchday of the season with only 2 points more than Roma.

About ten days prior to securing the league title, Inter beat Roma in another Coppa Italia final to celebrate its 6th championship in the tournament. But what made the 2009-10 season special, was Inter’s impressive run in the UEFA Champions League. After qualifying from the group stage with 9 points, Jose Mourinho faced his former club in the round of 16. A 2-1 win at

San Siro

and a 1-0 at Stamford Bridge meant that Inter has finally broke the spell of being eliminated in the last 16 stage of the Champions League.  

CSKA Moscow

was Inter’s next opponent on their way to the final. Two 1-0 home & away wins sent Inter to the semi-finals where they had to face against the reigning champions Barcelona who was also enjoying from its golden generation with a young Lionel Messi on managed by Pep Guardiola. The first leg was played at San Siro and Inter displayed a perfect counter attacking football which led to a 3-1 win. On the second leg, Inter lost a man as Thiago Motta was shown the red card at the 28th minute of the match. But Mourinho’s defensive football prevented Barca from scoring more than one goal and the Nerazzurri (Inter Nickname-Black and Blues) won the tie with a 3-2 aggregate score.

That would be Inter' first appearance in a European Cup/Champions League final since 1972. Winning both the Serie A and Coppa Italia, now Inter had the chance to become the first Italian team that completes a treble in history. On the other side of the final, Bayern Munich was also looking forward to win its first treble as they already had that season’s Bundesliga and DFB Pokal gold medals in their pocket. But Inter put on a solid performance at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium against Louis van Gaal’s team and won the most important match of the season thanks to a brace by Diego Milito. 

The Key Players in the Golden Generation of Inter

It’s safe to say that the golden generation of Inter was relatively a defensive side that tended to hit the opponents on the counter attacks. Therefore, the defensive players had a huge role in Inter’s successes from 2004 to 2010 and that’s somehow in the DNA of the club as you would come across many defenders among

Inter legends

in its history. Both Roberto Mancini and Jose Mourinho used a 4-4-2 as the base formation during their time at Inter. A formation that could transform to a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 depending on the situation.

It also worth mentioning that since we are looking at a 6-year time span, reviewing every key player during those six seasons will going to need another article for itself. That’s why we had to rule out some great players who helped Inter to reach those magnificent achievements. Names like Adriano, Zlatan Ibrahimovic,

Julio Cesar

, Esteban Cambiasso, Lucio, and Walter Samuel are just a few of them. All things considered; this is our pick for the key players of the golden generation of Inter from 2004 to 2010:

Javier Zanetti

Not only he is one of the most popular Inter legends, Javier Zanetti also is renowned as an icon of Italian Serie A, despite being born and raised as an Argentinian. After having his breakthrough season with

Banfield

in Argentinian football, in 1995 Inter brough the 22-year-old talented right back to European football and the rest as they say, is history. Zanetti remained at Inter for the rest of his career and became the club’s all time most capped player with 858 games in 20 years across all completions. Without any doubt, he will be a part of Inter all time XI given to his wonderful career at the club.

Since the beginning of the 2001-02 season, Javier Zanetti became the first captain of the team and led his teammates with his exquisite leadership skills. Zanetti was a strong player who had highly contributed both on attack and defense. He also had the ability to play as a defensive midfielder which gave Mourinho an extra option for the midfield during the famous treble season. Javier Zanetti carried on to play for Inter until 2014 when he played his last match as a professional football player. Apart from being one of the best full-backs of his generation, Javier Zanetti is a respected figure even for the rival fanbases due to his sportsmanship in the game. 

Marco Materazzi

An aggressive defender who didn’t hesitate to rush into the opposition attackers and perform risky tackles. Marco Materazzi was those kinds of defenders that every striker would rather stay away from him. With 1.93 height, he was a big guy at the core of Inter’s defense for 10 years from 2001 to 2011. He joined Inter from

Perugia

when he has 28 years old and it didn’t take him long to find his place in Inter’s starting line-up.

In addition to decent defensive skills, Marco Materazzi was a precise penalty taker and converted some crucial shots from the spot. As a tall player, Materazzi was a lethal weapon for his side on free kicks as well. He was the player that scored the equalizing goal for Italy against France in the 2006 World Cup final. On his last couple of years at Inter, he lost his spot as regular starter but still was a reliable option on the bench and helped Mourinho’s side to keep on chasing all of those three titles.

Maicon

Historically, Inter has always been a good destination for South American players and

the golden generation of Inter

had some of the finest ones. The Brazilian Maicon moved to European football in 2004 joining the French side Monaco. In 2006 Inter signed him when he was approaching to the peak of his career with 25 years old. Maicon Douglas Sisenando as known as Maicon was a strong right back and he could damage the opposition with his pinpoint crosses and powerful long-range shots.

During his time at Inter, Maicon was so good that the managers couldn’t put him one the bench considering Inter already had a decent player in the right back position named Javier Zanetti. So, there were a lot of games that Zanetti played at the defensive midfielder position to make way for Maicon on the starting line-up. After playing 249 games for Inter and submitting 20 goals and 51 assists with the Nerazzurri shirt, Maicon left the club in 2012 as one of the best right backs in the league’s history. 

Dejan Stanković

Roberto Mancini was not the only valuable person that moved from Lazio to Inter in 2004. As mentioned earlier, Lazio was dealing with a financial crisis back then and they couldn’t afford keeping their best players at the club. The Serbian Dejan Stanković was one of the hot targets of the 2004 summer transfer market and many elite clubs were keen on signing him from Lazio, including Juventus. But Dejan decided to join his former boss and therefore moved to Inter. He was 26 when he signed for Inter and had enough experience in Italian top flight that immediately became an untouchable player in the team’s squad.

 Dejan Stanković was a box to box midfielder who could press the ball for the entire 90 minutes week in and week out. He also had a cannon in his right foot and scored some jaw dropping goals in his career, even a few from near the half-way line of the pitch. With the arrival of Mourinho, there were talks that he is not in Jose’s plan for Inter and has to leave the club. But the Serbian stayed at Inter and fought for his spot which led to Mourinho changing his mind about him and use him as a key part of the golden generation of Inter.

Wesley Sneijder

Comparing to the other players that we covered above, Wesley Sneijder spent a much shorter spell at Inter but his performance was so good that he can be even considered as a candidate for

Inter all time XI

. The Dutch creative attacking midfielder was an Ajax academy product that made a name for himself at Ajax first team from 2002 to 2007. His promising career at Ajax was followed by a big move to Real Madrid when Wesley was 23. Despite having two decent seasons at Spain, Real Madrid decided to sell Sneijder and Inter didn’t lost the chance to add a high-quality midfielder to their squad with €15.00m in the summer of 2009.

In turned out that Wesley Sneijder was a perfect match for Mourinho’s Inter and the Dutchman enjoyed his best year of career in the 2009-10 season that led to winning the treble with Inter. In that season, he scored 3 goals and provided 6 assists in 11 champions league games and made people to talk about that he deserves the Ballon d’Or award. Although Sneijder left Inter in 2012 for

Galatasaray

, but his exceptional performance in that particular season, will be remembered by every Inter fan that lived through those day.

Diego Milito

There are always some players that spent the majority of their careers in the so-called small clubs and that causes them to be off the radar. The Argentinian striker Diego Milito is a perfect example for that. He started from Racing Club in Argentina and after moving to Europe in 2003, he spent two spells at Genoa and three seasons at

Zaragoza

. Scoring 24 goals in 31 league games for Genoa in the 2008-09 season, convinced Inter to pay €28m to bring him at San Siro which was quite a high number for a 30-year-old player.

But at the end of the next season, you couldn’t find a single Inter fan that suggests they paid too much for the Argentinian goal scorer. Bagging 22 goals and 5 assists in 35 Serie A matches was certainly impressive, but Diego Milito scored two goals that are arguably the most important goals for

the golden generation of Inter

. During the 2010 UCL final in Madrid, Diego Milito scored two fantastic goals in the 35 and 70 minutes of the game that sealed a 2-0 win for Inter against Bayern Munich. Milito stayed at Inter for four more years and recorded 104 goal contributions in 171 matches for Inter before saying his farewell to the Nerazzurri fans in 2014. 

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source: SportMob

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