Most of the historical facts in this article are just copied directly from Inter’s official website. Before getting into that, however, I do want to point out that Internazionale has more players named in this all-time “first team” than Juventus — furthermore, our Derby d’Italia rival’s only inclusion was Cristiano Ronaldo, who almost certainly would have made the cut anyway even if he had retired after leaving Real Madrid instead of joining Juve.
Our Derby della Madonnina rivals AC Milan technically had three players named, but I only really count two of them — Paolo Maldini and Cafù, the latter of whom actually had more appearances for Roma (163) than he did for the Rossoneri (119). The third was technically Ronaldo Nazario at the end of his career, but “O Fenômeno” was well past his prime by then, and only had 20 appearances for Milan... compared to 68 appearances for Inter at the peak of his powers.
Last but certainly not least, it is also worth pointing out that Napoli (who happen to be our opponents today) had an indisputably worth historical inclusion as well... Diego Maradona of course. R.I.P. to the recently departed legend.
For the first time since 1956, the Ballon d’Or, a prestigious award assigned by the French news magazine France Football, was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of casting their votes for the prize of the best player from the calendar year, a panel of 140 journalists situated worldwide were invited to select the greatest eleven of all time, a Dream Team consisting of the greatest players who have taken to the pitch between 1956 and 2020.
The results are now in, and two players who won the Ballon d’Or while at Inter are included. They’re both in Inter’s Hall of Fame and truly are two of the greatest to have graced the game. They’re Lothar Matthäus and Ronaldo.
Born in 1961, Lothar Matthäus’ playing career lasted from 1979 to 2000. The German was at Inter from 1988 to 1992, four seasons which saw him score 53 goals in 153 matches. With the number 10 shirt on his back, he was the complete midfielder, blessed with power and technique.
In his first season in Serie A, he inspired the Nerazzurri to a record-breaking Scudetto triumph, the 13th in the Club’s history. He also won the Supercoppa Italiana and UEFA Cup while he was [with] the Nerazzurri.
In 1990, following West Germany’s 1990 World Cup success in Italy, France Football presented him with the prize of the Ballon d’Or. Matthäus thus become the first Inter player to win this prestigious award.
Matthäus raised the Ballon d’Or trophy to the sky at the Meazza on 10 March 1991 prior to Inter vs. Juventus (a match that the Nerazzurri won 2-0, with the German getting on the scoresheet). The stands were packed as a wonderful ceremony involving children in Inter and Germany shirts unfolded on the San Siro turf.
Matthäus is one of four players to have featured in five World Cups (the others are Antonio Carbajal, Rafael Márquez, [and] Gianluigi Buffon), with the German having played in a record 25 World Cup games during his career. Having made 150 appearances, he remains Germany’s most-capped player. He scored 23 times for his country, who he helped to win both the European Championship and World Cup.
RONALDO “FENÔMENO” NAZARIO
The Phenomenon. After initially wearing the number 10 following his arrival in the summer of 1997, he became Inter’s exceptional number 9 the following season. Born in 1976, he went on to revolutionize the world of football, combining pace and power with technique that had never been seen before.
He wore the Nerazzurri shirt for five seasons and, although he suffered various injuries during his time at the Club, he was an inspirational figure in that wonderful victory in the 1998 UEFA Cup final against Lazio in Paris. His goal in that game, one of the 59 he scored in 99 Inter appearances, remains memorable.
Ronaldo got his hands on the Ballon d’Or trophy twice. In winning the 1997 edition of the award, he became the second Inter player to do so. And just like Matthäus, he proudly displayed the trophy to the Nerazzurri faithful before an Inter vs. Juventus showdown, which was played on 4 January 1998.
After Ronaldo’s Brazil triumphed at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, he became a Ballon d’Or winner for a second time. Ronaldo had spent the first part of the calendar year at Inter before moving on to Real Madrid.
In total, O Fenômeno netted 62 goals in 98 appearances for Brazil. After being named in the squad but not featuring in the Seleção’s 1994 World Cup success, he took centre stage in 2002. With a tally of 15, Ronaldo has scored the second-most goals in World Cup tournament history.
Historical Impact of Matthäus and Ronaldo
Both of these legends were well before my time — Matthäus left Inter four years before I was even born, and Ronaldo left Inter when I was just four years old. However, both players had a timeless impact, winning trophies here and bringing millions of new fans to the club. That latter point is particularly true in the case of “O Fenômeno,” a global icon as the most talented striker in history, who almost transcended the sport at the peak of his powers in a way that very few players in any sport have ever done... think Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Muhammad Ali, Roger Federer, or the “original” Ronaldo’s four fellow attackers in this All-Time Ballon d’Or XI.
“O Fenômeno” didn’t only attract new fans to Inter — the transcendent superstar attracted millions of new fans around the world to the sport itself, just like Pelé and Maradona had done in previous decades... just like Lionel Messi did for me personally during the 2014 World Cup.
As a relatively recent fan, I had heard of Matthäus a few times since I started supporting Inter in 2016. However, it honestly wasn’t until reading the news about this “dream team” yesterday that I learned the German midfielder was THAT ridiculously good. Maradona played against some of the greatest defenders in history, including the likes of Franco Baresi and fellow “Dream Team” inclusion Paolo Maldini... however, in his book Yo soy el Diego (I am the Diego), the great Maradona declared that Matthäus was actually “the best rival I’ve ever had. I guess that’s enough to define him.”
Comparisons to Current Inter Players
Romelu Lukaku’s favorite player growing up was Ronaldo Nazario, but comparing the Big Belgian to the most talented striker in history might seem blasphemous, at least if you believed the critics at the end of his time with Manchester United. However, “O Fenômeno” scored 34 goals in all competitions in his debut season (1997/98) after becoming Inter’s record signing... and last season, Lukaku equalled that tally after becoming the new club record signing! To make that coincidence even crazier, both strikers scored their 34th goal of those seasons in the UEFA Cup/Europa League Final! Hopefully the Big Belgian can build on that successful debut season without repeating his idol’s subsequent injury struggles.
Romelu Lukaku has now scored 34 goals across all competitions in 2019-20, equalling Ronaldo’s record for most scored in a debut season for Inter.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 21, 2020
RON ROM pic.twitter.com/5vXIMg4I0L
Nicolò Barella has been compared to a lot of other modern box-to-box midfielders such as Radja Nainggolan, Arturo Vidal, and Marco Verratti among others. It might be too early to compare the 23 year old to arguably the best “complete midfielder” in history, but the more I learn about Matthäus, the more his all-around quality reminds me of Barella’s potential!
Just like the Ballon d’Or winner, Barella has shown the ability to thrive in any midfield role, capable of doing anything from scoring spectacular volley goals in an advanced role to shutting down opponents defensively as the deepest midfielder. The 5’8” Italian has even demonstrated the positional intelligence and confident tenacity to win aerial duels against taller opponents, just like the 5’9” German legend used to do. It remains to be seen whether or not Barella will match Matthäus’ truly extraordinary success winning both individual and team awards for both club and country, but the young Inter starter has already shown the all-around talent for those lofty goals to be at least plausible.