Ahead of this weekend’s Derby della Madonnina, Gazzetta dello Sport rounded up five of Inter’s triplete heroes and picked their brains on Sunday’s big match.
Among the topics discussed by Messrs Milito, Materazzi, Pandev, Cordoba and Chivu were the importance of playing as a team, the necessity to respect and honour the shirt, where Sunday’s game will be won and lost and why playing as the ‘away’ team might be a good thing for Inter on this occasion.
Any chance we can knock a few years off some of them and sneak them onto the bench this weekend?
They too had the weight of past traumas on their shoulders; see the European Cup that hadn’t been won for 45 years. They too didn’t see that much of each other off the pitch, with different minds, cultures, habits and ethnicities. And yet they understood the importance of wearing and loving that crazy, unique shirt, and thus they were capable of compacting themselves like a block of granite in order to go and make history.
Who better, therefore, than Inter’s triplete heroes can send a message of black-and-blue pride to the Nerazzurri’s current squad ahead of Sunday’s derby? Not least because that team managed to beat Milan with 9 men. Talk about putting your heart and soul into it...
Whatever obstacles Inter came across in those years, Diego Milito demolished them by scoring goals.
“For sure, the sense of responsibility is something you have to demonstrate in every training session, in every match. Not just when you’re playing against Milan” the Principe explains.
“Having said that though, I don’t believe there’s an issue with not enough attachment to the shirt, not least because each period has its own players and its own history. Besides, we’re talking about a team that’s 4th in the table.
“Gattuso has given Milan a clear style of play, but most of all he’s given the players character and anger. The derby is a law unto itself, though, and you have to be 100% concentrated.”
The personification of interismo is Marco Marterazzi, a player that sometimes made mistakes but always gave everything. “What do Inter have to do to win the derby? Do what Gattuso is doing: play with heart, passion and competence. All things that Inter have proved they have and can’t have lost.
“If I were Spalletti I’d show the players a video of Inter 5-0 Chievo: that way everyone would realise how generous, daring and secure of itself the team was back then. They need to recover their grinta and solidarity.
“Playing as a team? In a derby it’s impossible not to. Given the current environment surrounding the team the fact this game is Milan’s home game could be an advantage for them - not least because only the very best Interisti will be there in the stands, those that support you for 90 minutes and only boo you at the end, if necessary.”
Materazzi is always direct and never banal, even when you ask him who will decide the derby: “Icardi or a defender. It’s true that Milan’s back-line has improved markedly since the first derby, but Mauro is Mauro. The area of the pitch that could decide the game? I reckon the wide areas.”
Ivan Cordoba, meanwhile, thinks it’ll be the midfield.
“A lot of matches are decided there,” the Colombian defender explains, “although at the moment it’s not entirely clear how Spalletti will line the team up. But the real key will be keeping your concentration at set pieces. Against Benevento it looked like Inter would never score and then in the space of two minutes they won the game from a corner and a free-kick.”
Cordoba then goes in very hard on the players: “Inter need to rediscover themselves. We saw in the first few months of the season that the quality is there. Back then they had hunger, they were a tight unit and they knew exactly what they had to do on the pitch. The players need to love this shirt, they need to have it clear in their heads that arriving at Inter is the culmination of thousands of sacrifices you’ve made - a fortune very few are lucky to have.
“Fighting to qualify for the Champions League is in itself a mistake, you always need to have the idea of winning in your head. Perhaps in the end it doesn’t happen, but that’s what the mentality must be. Fans will forgive you for a misplaced pass, but if you don’t leave everything you have out there on the pitch...”
Who was it that gave the group a shake back in the days of the Triplete? “Everyone and no one. We shut ourselves inside the dressing room, we spoke and then everyone responded to themselves. But you have to want certain responsibilities, you can’t be afraid that they’ll overwhelm you.”
One man who always took responsibility with the spirit of someone who often played at left-back (like Eto’o) is Goran Pandev, fresh from the goal he scored against Inter for Genoa and a key figure in the infamous derby of 24 January 2010, when Inter beat Milan 2-0 despite Sneijder and Lucio’s red cards.
“If you’re a united group you can win a derby even when you’re down to 9 men,” recalls the Macedonian, who scored a free-kick at the end of the game. “At half-time of that match, when we were 1-0 up and down to 10 men, Mourinho told us that even if the referee sent off another one of us we’d still have won. And that’s exactly what happened!
“In that season when the going got tough we shut ourselves inside the dressing room. Zanetti or someone else would speak and we’d leave our troubles behind us with humility and the strength of the group.
“Inter are one of the world’s greats, that shirt can is important and you have to be completely at one with it. Always. If you give everything those fans know how to give you unbelievable support. Otherwise they’ll pick on you. Considering the period the team is going through I think playing this derby as the away team is better.
“If you step out onto the pitch concentrated and hungry then God will help you; we saw that in Genoa-Inter but also the other way around in Bologna-Genoa. Still, Spalletti’s lads need to stay calm because they have a sizeable gap in the table.
“They have everything they need to win the derby, and from that point onwards nobody would be able to take the Champions League away from them.”
Last but not least Cristian Chivu, a precious jack of all trades: “Inter’s Triplete team knew exactly what their strengths and weaknesses were. When things got tough we used our heads to pull through.
“I don’t think it’s the attachment to the shirt that Inter are lacking at the moment. If you manage to get to a club like this you’ve already demonstrated everything, you’ve already proven yourself to be a great professional. Having said that Inter is a curious environment and you have to want to understand it with maximum commitment in every training session. Because that’s what you then take into every match.
“Inter have an evident mental block at the moment but everything would disappear with a win in the derby. The problem though is that you then have to play every match after that as if it too were a derby!
“The only way you can get out of this period is by playing as a tight unit, without putting your own interests ahead of the group’s. Sunday’s match is the ideal game to get the players’ hearts beating again.”