Author: Yuri Vasilyev
When you do not have lemons… you can still make lemonade. What would you do as a football player if you were not technically gifted, not strong physically and on top of that lacked pace? The answer is simple. You would have to hustle and hope for the best. This is exactly what Inzaghi did throughout his career.
When Johan Cruyff was asked to describe Inzaghi he said: “Look, the thing about Inzaghi is he can’t actually play football at all. He’s just always in the right position”. He went on further to say: “I find it terrible when talents are rejected based on computer stats. [..] My qualities technique and vision, are not detectable by a computer.” Those words by Dutch legend describe perfectly what Pippo was all about.
As a matter of fact, when it comes down to statistics of forwards only one thing matters – goal scoring record. Despite the fact that Philippo was prone to miss a chance that everyone would expect him to make, he mitigated that by scoring not only when no one expected him to do so, but also when it mattered the most.
A good example to illustrate that is the 2006-2007 finals of the Champions League in Athens when Milan played Liverpool. Carlo Ancelotti faced a tough decision when deciding who should start as a solo forward in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Alberto Gilardino was in solid form and performed well in training while Inzaghi struggled.
Adriano Galliani, who attended practice sessions, asked Ancelotti: “Why don’t we let Gilardino play? He looks to be in much better shape than Inzaghi.” In return, Carlo replied: “Inzaghi is a strange animal. Maybe tomorrow will be his night.” As it turned out the manager was right as Super Pippo not only started the game but also scored a brace that helped A.C.Milan to win 2:1.
Road to Milan
When asked to describe his early years Pippo replied: “As a kid, I was lively, cunning and determined. And mad for football, of course. [..] I was born with a ball in my head. I studied just to make my mum and dad proud [resulted in a diploma in accountancy] , but I always knew that, with a little luck, I’d be a footballer – a centre-forward, to be precise.”
However, his path towards becoming one of the top scorers of Champions League and A.C.Milan legend was by no means an easy one. As a kid, Inzaghi joined his home town club – Piacenza. At the age of 18, he made his debut for the senior team in Serie B. However, due to lack of playing time he was loaned to SC Leffe in 92/93 season. As a result, Philippo has managed to score 13 goals in 21 matches during that spell.
Despite solid results, another loan was on the horizon for the promising Italian as Piacenza loaned him to Hellas Verona in 93/94. Only in 94/95 Inzaghi would return to Piacenza and by scoring 15 goals in that season he would help his home club to return to Serie A. Those kind of results have attracted attention from Serie A club Parma and Pippo was transferred to Gialloblu for €3.05m.
Nevertheless, Inzaghi failed to impress during his first and what proved to be his last season with Parma. As a consequence, he was transferred to Atalanta in 1996 for a mere €90k. Many have thought that Philippo would never be able to deliver in Serie A as Serie B is the league he should stick with. He proved his critics wrong by becoming the top scorer of Serie A in 96/97 season by scoring 24 goals in 33 matches.
That resulted in number of top Italian clubs showing interest in promising talent but Juventus was the one that succeeded as Philippo was transferred to Bianconeri for €11.88m where he would spend next 4 seasons, win the Serie A once in 97/98 season, fall short of winning Champions League and score 89 goals on 165 appearances with the club.
In 2001 Inzaghi would be transferred to Milan for a significant amount at that time of €36.15m that would prove to be the club he would spend the rest of his career with.
Spell with A.C.Milan
Inzaghi has spent with Rossoneri in total 11 years and helped the team to win Serie A and Champions Leagues twice each.
Despite suffering number of serious injuries during his spell with Rossoneri he was always able to bounce back and keep on scoring goals as if he wasn’t absent from the action at all.
Alex Ferguson once famously said about Philippo: “That lad must have been born offside.” Truth is, he probably was. Every time Pippo would step on the pitch sideline referees would be expected to perform as best as they could while listening to constant complains from charismatic forward. Nonetheless, his sheer determination to score the goal at any cost would prevail more often than not.
Right place, right time
Over the course of his career in Serie A Inzaghi has scored 156 goals on 370 appearances while in Champions League he managed to net 41 goals having played in 74 matches. More importantly, Pippo was well-known for scoring goals when it mattered the most.
Truth is that Inzaghi never really had superior talent, he was a hard-working, dedicated professional who knew that his chance would come if he would truly desire it, like a basketball player who proves a successful long shot as MVP of the NBA season. His passion for the game would be unmatched and his celebrations even in seemingly unimportant matches versus outsiders would leave the opposition scratching their heads.
Philippo was an everyman who managed to become a legend and a role model for many young footballers of his time who realized that if he can then they can too.