Written by Deepankar Mazumder
Italian football is full of mysteries and spine-tingling stories – of huge tifos being unfolded at every historic stadium, of how a team formed at an alley in front of Duomo di Milano. FC Internazionale (colloquially known as Inter Milan) is undoubtedly one of the three biggest clubs in Italy, commonly known as “The big three”. Inter also shares one of the largest fan bases in the country, with Juventus. Italian news portal La Repubblica reported that historically the largest section of Inter fans were the middle-class bourgeoisie Milanisti. Inter won a total number of 7 Scudetti till 1954, sitting behind their city rivals Milan, Juventus, Torino, Fiorentina, and Sampdoria. But their fortunes were about to change.
The decade of the ’60s brought massive changes to Italian football. Inter emerged as a powerhouse when they appointed Argentine manager Helenio Herrera. It is very rare that a manager’s name has been so closely tied to a tactical system, as Herrera’s was with the Catenaccio. Herrera may not have been known as an inventor of the ultra-defensive Catenaccio system but was definitely the master of its adaptation and influenced many managers in football history to adapt his style of playing. Herrera landed the Inter job before the 1960-61 season and went on to form a devastating Inter side that was world-conquering and will always hold a place in football folklore.
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Fondly remembered as football’s first superstar manager, what Herrera did with his Inter team was more than just remarkable. Without a scudetto until 1962-63, then Inter president Angelo Moratti threatened to fire Herrera. This was a major catalyst in Inter’s transformation. By changing his strategy and formation, he eventually delivered success.
Herrera deployed a 5-3-2 set up in which he used captain Armando Picchi as a deep ball-playing sweeper just in front of goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti, using his wide passing range and his ability to move on both sides of the pitch. In front of him, he formed a 4 man defensive screen with both side-backs Giacinto Facchetti and Tarcisio Burgnich having the freedom to join the attack. In deep defense in front of captain Picchi, was the rock-solid wall of Aristide Guarneri and Carlo Tagnin. In midfield, Herrera played two of the finest ball-playing box-to-box midfielders, namely – Luis Suarez, whom he bought from his former club, FC Barcelona, and Gianfranco Bedin. Both Suarez and Bedin possessed a phenomenal touch and a reading of the game which was otherworldly.
On the wings, Herrera deployed Mario Corso on the left and Brazilian Jair da Costa on the right. Two of the finest goalscorers in Sandro Mazzola and Angelo Domenghini rounded out the attack, the former winning the golden boot a staggering five times.
In his 8 seasons at Inter, Herrera won 3 Scudetti, 2 European Cups and 3 Supercups. The side peaked in the 1965-66 campaign, romping to the league title with +42 goal difference. Giacinto Facchetti, primarily a left-back, matched the tally of reaching double-figures in that same season. In the 1965 European Cup, Gianfranco Bedin won the silverware without committing a single foul and by never losing the ball in the entire tournament. The reign of Helenio Herrera eventually ended with a defeat to Celtic in the 1967 European Cup final.
Mazzola later stated that this was the end of an era. Herrera resigned from the job and most of his players went their separate ways, joining other clubs. Helenio Herrera was the perfect example of how a manager should lead a team, with his imprint all over the side. He once told an Inter Spokesperson ”The problem with modern generation’s coaches is they try to copy me but most of them copied me wrong.” Helenio Herrera trained his players like they were in a Fascist Army camp and he was not afraid to knock down anyone growing more powerful than him. In Herrera’s system, it was elaborated that players should not play more than 3 passes to reach the opponent box. A true gaffer, Herrera introduced some memorable catchphrases like “He who doesn’t give it all, gives nothing” or “Think quickly, act quickly, play quickly.” Eight years of monopoly ended with Herrera’s departure, but this Inter side will forever be in our hearts. All good things, unfortunately, come to an end and so did “La Grande Inter“.
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