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Learning from the greats: how Inter strikers fare on derby debuts

Thirty years of iconic forwards facing Milan for the first time ahead of Saturday’s clash

George Weah and Ronaldo

Saturday’s Derby della Madonnina is a new experience for many. Both Antonio Conte and Marco Giampaolo find themselves at the helm of their respective clubs in a Milan derby for the first time, and whilst AC Milan have certainly made additions to their squad over the summer it is Inter who are expected to field the most players yet to experience this prestigious rivalry in the flesh.

Fans and media alike across the world are likely to be particularly focused on how Romelu Lukaku fares in his first derby for the Nerazzurri. Lukaku already has a couple of goals to his name this season and, at a club famed for both quality and quantity of forwards, expectations are undoubtedly high for such a high-profile fixture. Although perhaps not as likely to start as Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez may also get his first minutes in a derby this weekend and will surely be just as eager to silence Milan’s Curva Sud with a decisive goal.

With this in mind, now seems to be a perfect time to take a look back at how previous Inter strikers have fared in their maiden performances in these games. From Klinsmann to Zlatan and Ronaldo to Adriano, new boys Lukaku and Sanchez certainly have their role models laid out for them. Let’s see how these greats over the last thirty years or so announced themselves, for better or for worse, in their first ever derbies.

Jurgen Klinsmann

Juergen Klinsmann photo call Photo by Bongarts/Getty Images

Ah. Not the best place to start, perhaps. In 1989 Inter crashed to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan, with a certain Marco Van Basten amongst the scorers. In Klinsmann’s defense, a backline including Baresi, Maldini AND Costacurta is about as bad as it gets for a forward. We’ll let him off for this one.

Ivan Zamorano

UEFA Cup Final Lazio v Inter photo by Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images

The man with an addition symbol as part of his shirt number had a unnoteworthy derby debut in 1996. The two Milan giants played out a 1-1 draw, a Youri Djorkaeff penalty cancelling out Baggio’s second-minute opener to earn Inter a point. ‘Bam Bam’ did pick up a goal in the return fixture this season, 3-1 to Inter the scoreline there.


Italian Soccer - Serie A - Inter Milan v AC Milan Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images

A debut goal! The mesmerising Ronaldo scored a penalty to give Inter the lead for a second time against Milan in 1997, only for the Rossoneri to net a penalty of their own with ten minutes left to tie things up at 2-2. Surprisingly, it was Diego Simeone who stole the show in derbies this season, tallying three goals in total from midfield. Sensi, take note.

Christian Vieri

Paolo Maldini of AC Milan and Christian Vieri of Inter Photo by Grazia Neri/Getty Images

The only stat Vieri recorded in his Milan derby debut was a booking as George Weah broke Interisti hearts with a last-minute winner for the red side. The game finished 2-1, Ronaldo grabbing his penultimate goal before his season (and sadly his next, too) was ended by injury.


FBL-ITA-INTER-AC MILAN Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images

Adriano saw just over 20 minutes of action in his first derby appearance in 2001. It wasn’t a memorable occasion; Milan ran out 4-2 winners despite Inter going into the break 1-0 up. In his first full appearance in this fixture in early 2004, ‘The Emperor’ didn’t score either goal in a 3-2 defeat.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Seria A: Inter Milan v AC Milan Photo by New Press/Getty Images

We can always rely on Zlatan. One of the ultimate big-game players, Ibrahimovic of course netted on his derby debut in 2006. In fact, this match turned out to be one of the great encounters between the clubs, finishing 4-3 to Inter and featuring a screamer from Stankovic, a headed goal from Materazzi and a second yellow to follow after lifting up his shirt. Classic Marco.

Diego Milito

FC Internazionale Milano v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

A real standout derby debut from Diego, who assisted two goals and scored a penalty of his own as Inter thrashed Milan 4-0 in only the second game of the 2009/10 season. Milito thrived in derbies, scoring six goals in eight games and writing himself into Inter folklore with a hat-trick against Milan in 2012. As an added bonus, Samuel Eto’o made his first derby appearance at the same time as Milito, picking up an assist. Maybe things go better if two forwards are making their debuts...

Mauro Icardi

Mauro Icardi (#9) of FC Internazionale celebrates after... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Love him or hate him, Icardi netted five times in Milan derbies including a hat-trick in 2017. Sadly, none of these goals came on his derby debut. Icardi featured briefly as a substitute in a 1-0 win for Inter in his first taste of the rivalry, while his first full appearance later that season ended in the same scoreline albeit this time in favour of the Rossoneri.

What have we learnt from all this? Quite little, really. While Ibra, Ronaldo and Milito opened their scoring accounts against AC Milan on their first attempts, it seems even the greatest Nerazzurri goal-scorers of recent times didn’t always enjoy their first Derby della Madonnina outings. This does, on the other hand, mean Lukaku and Sanchez both have a glorious chance. Make the difference in this game, and your names are forever ingrained in Inter history. No need to panic however if things don’t go fully according to plan; even the best need time.