NICK WELLS looks back at Inter’s early 90s travails before money and a returning Moratti helped to turn their fortunes around.
You’re a child, watching your beloved team dominate the Italian league like no other time in their history. Your father is the president of the team, bankrolling them to ensure their success is continued, costs be damned.
Thirty years on and your father is dead, and your team has slipped into mediocrity – relatively speaking – and struggling with their identity. Are they an attacking team? Or will they look to become a defensive powerhouse and wage war from the back?
Instead, they’re inconsistent. Twice in two years they’ve sleepwalked through the season with draws and early season form saving them from relegation.
The early 1990s were a relatively disappointing time to be an Inter Milan fan. Under the ownership of Ernesto Pellegrini, and the management of Corrado Orrico and Luis Suarez, Inter stumbled through the 1991-1992 season.
Out of 34 league games, Inter won only 10, with Walter Zenga backstopping the team. They drew a further 17 to scrape together an unspectacular amount of points to finish eighth. They crashed out of the UEFA Cup to Boavista and were edged by Juventus in the Coppa Italia.
The problems spread to the players as well. After notching 14 goals the season before, Jurgen Klinsmann struggled and only scored seven goals hastening a move away from the San Siro.
Orrico was sacked and Suarez brought in to right the fortunes of the Nerazzurri. However, following a blueprint the team’s next owner would popularise, Suarez was dismissed at the end of the season in favour of Genoa’s coach Osvaldo Bagnoli.
The next season would paper over the disappointment of the past. All three of its star German players would be sold with Igor Shalimov and Ruben Sosa bolstering the ranks and proving influential for the team.
That new team would finish second in the league, after city rivals AC Milan clinched the league and drew a series of games near the end of the season, allowing Inter to close the gap.
But Pellegrini failed to heed the warnings that the 1991-1992 season brought. Two years removed and the club suffered its worst in recent memory.
Inter would tear it up in Europe, thrashing Borussia Dortmund and Cagliari along the way to a UEFA Cup trophy, but league results gave fans palpitations.
The Nerazzurri started brightly enough, hobnobbing it in the upper echelons of the table by Christmas, before their second half performance almost concluded in disastrous calamity.
While AC Milan were clinching their fourteenth title, Inter were in a relegation dogfight, losing 10 of their late season games, and only being saved with a 4-1 drubbing of Lecce and the vapours of their early season form.
Inter finished just one point above the relegation zone after former player Giampiero Marini was brought in to ensure that Inter’s record of being the only Italian team never to have been relegated since Serie A was formed in 1929 was preserved.
Marini may have lifted the UEFA Cup, but he only won two league games out of the twelve he commanded.
Dennis Bergkamp, one of two Dutch players brought in at the start of the season, wrote in his autobiography that there were warning signs at the start of the season. He describes a pre-season match, where he was paired with Sosa in attack.
“I’d be up there with (Ruben) Sosa and every game we’re up against five defenders.”
Bagnoli favoured a counter-attacking style, but failed to implement it against the defensive mindset of the other Italian teams.
Bergkamp claims that Pellegrini had assured him that would change when he and Wim Jonk arrived, but if it did, it never clicked on the field.
After a decade of ownership, Pellegrini cashed out for the returning son: Massimo Moratti.
Pellegrini had tasted some success as an owner, winning the UEFA Cup twice and respectable domestic finishes, for the fan base, but the 1993-1994 season was one of Inter’s worst in memory.
While his ownership had started promisingly, the decline was terrible for a team that considered itself one of Italy’s footballing royalty.
Moratti quickly began looking to bring back the feel of the “Grande Inter” years, which his father had overseen in the 1960s with the leadership of Helenio Herrera guiding the team to unprecedented success. In all, it’s estimated he spent a billion euros to finance all the transfer dealings – as well as hirings and firings of managers – to restore Inter to the peak he had witnessed as a child.
In his first year, Moratti signed cheques to bring Manchester United’s Paul Ince and Palmeiras’ Roberto Carlos.
Using the money from his father’s company, Moratti looked to quickly turn Inter’s fortunes around.
A respectable sixth placed finish – and the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup followed in his first year of stewardship – brought some stability to the club. His second year in charge wasn’t much better – albeit capped by the purchase of future club legend Javier Zanetti – but his third year showed some change.
Roy Hodgson, future Fulham and England manager, had control of the club for a full season, taking the Nerazzurri to the UEFA Cup final and third place in the league for the club’s best domestic finish since the 1992-1993 season.
But it was the transfer in the summer of 1997 that truly heralded Inter’s return to the big stage.
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, simply known as Ronaldo, signed for a then-world record fee for £19.5 million. In his first year he scored 34 goals in all competitions, 25 of which came in the league, and helped push Inter to second in the league and another UEFA Cup victory.
It would only take a year for Moratti to once again open his wallet and sign off on another world record transfer fee for Italian striker Christian Vieri.
His signing was bolstered a year later by French captain Laurent Blanc. Let it not be said that Moratti did not back his managers. Did he back them wisely? Possibly not to the extent of players they needed. In his early years as an owner, he seemed to thrive on the marquee signings who would lift the crowd and steal the spotlight away from AC Milan and shine it on Inter.
Seventeen years after they last won the big one, the Nerazzurri finally tasted success. After all the signings – Hernan Crespo replaced Ronaldo when he eventually moved on to a golden pathway in Madrid – they claimed the league title. It may have been by the back door of the Calciopoli scandal, but it counted nonetheless.
A year later and Inter set a record in the number of games won consecutively (seventeen) and claimed the title again, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 15 goals in the league helping fire the team to a second straight Serie A title.
In total, Moratti’s Inter won five titles in five years, as Diego Milito replaced Crespo and Samuel Eto’o replaced the departing Ibrahimovic.
Fifteen years after Moratti looked to return Inter to a position of continental dominance, he got his wish. Jose Mourinho led the Nerazzurri to the peak of European football with a Champions League victory over Bayern Munich, as well as a Supercoppa Italiana and Serie A trophy under each arm.
It took an awful lot of his father’s money to finally restore the team he grew up loving to the place it rightfully deserved. Inter came to dominate the domestic landscape and also had a European crown to add to Moratti’s mantlepiece. Finally, he made his own headlines as an owner.
“Every president leaves his mark,” Moratti said in an interview published in the Guardian when it was announced he had sold his stake in the club. Looking back on his time as Inter’s custodian, he most certainly had.
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