Serie A in the 1990s was awash with money, drama and some downright baffling results. But nothing was more dramatic or baffling than Internazionale during that period.
Throughout the 1990s, Inter would finish second twice in the league, win the UEFA Cup three times, almost get relegated, break the transfer record twice, go through 13 different managerial reigns and never win a domestic trophy.
This is how a football club managed to shoot itself in the foot for an entire decade:
German Powered Machine
Under top coach Giovanni Trapattoni, Inter had won the Scudetto in 1989 powered by the brilliance of Germans Lotthar Matthaus and Andreas Brehme and the goals of Aldo Serena. The change to take Inter into the 90s was to replace Serena’s strike partner, Argentine Ramon Diaz, with another German in the form of Jurgen Klinsmann.
Despite Klinsmann’s instant adaptation to Italy (top scoring for Inter with 15 in all competitions) and a Supercoppa win at the start of the season, 1989/90 would see Inter finish third in the league and have early exits from the Coppa Italia and European Cup. Much of this can be attributed to the struggles of Klinsmann and Serena to develop a cohesive partnership as well as champions Napoli and Milan (who’d win the European Cup) being far too good.
The 1990 World Cup would see Inter’s three Germans return as world champions and hopes were high that Trapattoni’s side could kick on and win another Scudetto. Powered on by an inspired Matthaus from midfield, Inter were well in the running for the Scudetto along with Milan and Sampdoria. However, late season defeats to Sampdoria then Genoa scuppered their title hopes and handed Samp their first and, to date, only Serie A title. Some consolation was found in the UEFA Cup as Inter saw off Roma 2-1 on aggregate in the final to win it.
Matthaus’ 16 goals were key to Inter’s third place finish in the league while Klinsmann’s 18 in all competitions helped secure the UEFA Cup. Things were looking positive for Inter but that was all about to change very suddenly.
Trap-ped In A Rut
The summer of 1991 saw Trapattoni make the decision to leave Inter to return to coach Juventus. Chairman Ernesto Pellegrini’s choice to replace the legendary boss? Corrado Orrico.
A quick Google of Mr Orrico tells you that this job was earned on the back of him almost working a miracle at little Lucchese the previous season. The Tuscan club came oh so close to promotion to Serie A in 1991 but it was enough to convince Pellegrini to give the reins at Inter to Orrico.
It did not go well.
Orrico reportedly switched Lotthar Matthaus’ squad number from his usual 8 to 5 and completely lost the dressing room. Divisions within the squad began to run deep and some pretty shoddy results did not help matters. The scintillating form of Matthaus and Klinsmann was gone with goals drying up and a tame UEFA Cup defence ended early by Portuguese side Boavista.
With Orrico floundering, he was let go in early 1992 and replaced by Inter legend Luis Suarez. Suarez added little to the team as things lurched from one disaster to another. Case in point came during the 1-1 draw at Napoli on matchday 25 when Stefano Desideri scored Inter’s equaliser and proceeded to celebrate by pointing to Suarez on the sideline and gesturing that he was an ‘asshole’ repeatedly. Suarez had to be restrained by Matthaus and others as it happened and Desideri was suspended by Inter.
Inter would finish the season eighth with a late season home defeat to an already relegated Cremonese summing their season up perfectly.
Out With The Germans
The summer of 1992 saw Pellegrini decided to start afresh with Inter. Out went Suarez and the German trio of Brehme, Matthaus and Klinsmann. In came Genoa manager Osvaldo Bagnoli and new foreign stars in the shape of Darko Pancev, Igor Shalimov, Matthias Sammer and Ruben Sosa as well as Italia 90 star Toto Schillaci.
The move was inspired as Inter went on a title charge in 1992/93, inspired by the goals of the Uruguayan Sosa. His 20 league goals kept Inter apace with city rivals Milan, who were almost at their peak under Fabio Capello. German Sammer was also impressive but a struggle to adapt to Italian life saw him leave in January although former Foggia man Shalimov helped ease the burden of his departure.
However, classic Inter struck throughout the season and would cost them the Scudetto. An early season 3-0 loss at Ancona was one of just four defeats all season but particularly shocking considering Ancona would finish second bottom and ship 73 goals in the process. A 2-0 defeat at Parma in their penultimate match would provide the death knell for their title hopes in the end.
Another concern was the reliance on Sosa’s goals. Schillaci only managed six league goals despite playing consistently while the signing of Red Star goal machine Pancev was an unmitigated disaster. Bagnoli did not like Pancev’s style of play and the two consistently fell out throughout the season with Pancev managing just one league goal.
Inter needed reinforcements.
In With The Dutch
Pellegrini was by no means able to spend as much as city rivals Milan or historic rivals Juventus but Inter were still able to make a splash in the transfer market when necessary. £7 million was laid down by Pellegrini in the summer of 1993 on Ajax forward Dennis Bergkamp and he was soon joined by compatriot Wim Jonk.
Hopes were high but, to a lesser degree than Pancev, Inter struggled to get the best from their new Dutch stars. Bergkamp would actually be top scorer in all competitions with 18 in 93/94 but only 8 came in Serie A as Bagnoli’s defensive mindset stifled the legendary Dutchman’s creativity and skill. Inter also struggled in the league with a horror second half of the season dragging them into a serious relegation fight.
Remember, this was a side that had just spent millions on Dennis Bergkamp and they were battling relegation. Heading into the winter just four points behind AC Milan, Inter would pick up just 11 more points in the final 17 games to finish one point above the drop zone in 13th. Ruben Sosa’s 16 league goals made sure that the Nerazzurri did not go down with a late season win over Lecce proving particularly crucial.
The slump in form wound up costing Bagnoli his job in February and he was replaced by Giampiero Marini. Fortunately for Marini, Inter were still in the UEFA Cup and the new man in the dugout led the side all the way to the final on the back of Bergkamp’s 8 goals in the competition.
They would face Austrians Casino Salzburg (now Red Bull Salzburg) and a solitary goal from Nicola Berti and Wim Jonk in each leg would be enough to secure a second UEFA Cup for Inter in four years.
1994 would see Inter replace Marini with former Napoli coach Ottavio Bianchi and replace long-term goalkeeper Walter Zenga with Gianluca Pagliuca of Sampdoria for a world record fee for a goalkeeper. Bianchi would help Inter restabilise after the turmoil of the previous season but the story of 1994/95 was never really to do with the football. Inter would finish sixth, struggling for goals but that was not the news.
The news was in the boardroom.
In March of 1995, it was announced that Massimo Moratti would replace Ernest Pellegrini as chairman of Inter. Pellegrini’s tenure had lasted just over a decade and seen a Scudetto win and the signing of some great players but the results in the last few years had left a lot to be desired.
Moratti came in with ambition. He wanted to make Inter as great as Milan and Juventus and knew only one way to do it: spend, spend, spend. Moratti’s first summer in charge saw the arrivals of Roberto Carlos, Paul Ince, Javier Zanetti, Marco Branca and the world’s most expensive teenager Caio Ribeiro as well as the departure of Bergkamp to Arsenal.
It did not go well to start with. Bianchi became the first of many Moratti sackings just four games into the season after a loss at Napoli while his replacement, Luis Suarez back again for another stint in charge, lasted another seven. With Inter rooted to the foot of the table, Moratti opted for Switzerland boss Roy Hodgson in what would be one of his shrewder early moves.
Hodgson presided over an upturn in form that moved Inter away from relegation woes and into the race for a European place. It included a five game winning run that took in wins at Lazio and in the Milan derby. Hodgson’s Inter also smashed bottom club Padova 8-2 at home to add a highlight to his time in charge.
Scraping UEFA Cup qualification in seventh was something to celebrate considering Inter’s start but it was the third season in succession where Inter had been nowhere close to the top of the league.
Rebuilt and Ready
The summer of 1996 saw Inter begin to set themselves up for a sustained push up the league table. Roberto Carlos left for Real Madrid after falling out with Hodgson over where he should play but he was replaced by Alessandro Pistone as well as the arrivals of Youri Djorkaeff, Aron Winter and Ivan Zamorano.
Hodgson’s men were consistent all season, losing just five times in the league and grinding out results to finish third for their best finish since 1993. Djorkaeff’s debut season saw him bag 14 league goals while Maurizio Ganz ably supported with 11. Importantly, Inter finished just six points behind Juventus which was a sign that things were looking good under Hodgson.
Their European campaign was also promising. Having dispatched Guingamp, Graz AK, Boavista, Anderlecht and Monaco, all that stood in Inter’s way of a third UEFA Cup in the 90s was German side Schalke led by Huub Stevens. This was the last time the UEFA Cup final would be played over two legs and it was filled with drama.
The first leg was played in Germany at Schalke’s Parkstadion where the Germans would win thanks to a solitary Marc Wilmots goal. The second leg at the San Siro was a tense affair which was taken to extra time late on by a Zamorano goal. Despite losing Salvatore Fresi to a red card in the 89th minute, Inter took it to penalties.
The expectant Inter crowd waited. Pagliuca was a notorious penalty saver so this was surely in the bag.
Ingo Anderbrugge, Olaf Thon and Martin Max buried Schalke’s first three penalties ruthlessly past the penalty saving expert.
Only Youri Djorkaeff scored for Inter.
It left Wilmots the job of rolling the ball into the corner to bring down the curtain on Hodgson’s reign at Inter. Post-match, the Englishman was pelted by all sorts and Moratti fired him, upset at the final defeat. Luciano Castellani took over the final two games of the Serie A season, ensuring Inter finished third.
In truth, Moratti was only upset for a little while as the positive momentum of the 96/97 season and a contract impasse in Barcelona meant he would be cheered up very quickly.
The summer of 1997 saw Luigi Simoni given the Inter job after Roy Hodgson’s departure and, to ensure improvement on the previous season, Moratti broke the world transfer record.
There was only one man worthy of it at that time – Ronaldo.
With the world’s best player on the books, hopes were high that Inter could build on the foundations Hodgson had laid and win the Scudetto. Inter were further strengthened by the signings of Taribo West, Diego Simeone, Alvaro Recoba, Francesco Moriero, Paulo Sousa and Ze Elias.
Inter would start the season incredibly, not losing a game until their final Serie A game of 1997 at Udinese. They would open 1998 with a win over main title rivals Juventus but classic Inter hit at some of the worst times. Home defeats to Bari and Bologna in matches 16 and 19 were hugely costly to their title charge.
However, Juventus would never quite pull away from Inter at any point in the season. Draws were the Old Lady’s issue (they’d end the season with 11) and, while Inter stumbled through February and March, Juve could never truly capitalise and pull away.
Following Inter’s defeat at Parma in early March, the Nerazzurri rattled off six wins on the spin to pull within a point of Juve. This included a decisive 3-0 derby win over an ailing Milan side, a win away to Roma and revenge on Udinese at the San Siro. With just four games to go, Inter sat on 65 points in second while Juve were top of the pile but only a point ahead.
Match 31 saw Inter travel to Turin. The arrival of Ronaldo had led to individual duels that captured the world’s attention – Ronaldo vs Batistuta. Ronaldo vs Maldini et cetera. When Juventus and Inter collided, the narrative became Ronaldo vs Del Piero. The two forwards were regarded as the best in the world and were at the absolute peak of the powers. January’s meeting had seen Ronaldo come in for some rough treatment from the Juve defenders but he would set up Djorkaeff’s winner.
This time it would not be beauty that won the game. Juventus took the lead as Del Piero got the ball caught under his feet in the box before stroking home from a tight angle. It was a moment of individual quality and impudence from the Italian as a bitter, scrappy encounter raged on around him. Edgar Davids and Simeone were particularly keen to kick lumps out of each other but no real controversy occurred in the first half.
It would be the second half where things turned sour for Inter. With the game getting more and more tetchy and Juve boss Marcello Lippi happy to stick with a 1-0, Inter broke from a Juve free kick. The long ball to Ronaldo would fall to substitute Ivan Zamorano who stumbled into the box. The break of the ball was kind to Ronaldo who took it in stride and knocked it inside. The Brazilian and defender Mark Iuliano collided and down went Ronaldo. Everyone stopped for referee Piero Ceccarini’s whistle.
In the seconds that had passed, Juve had broken themselves and Del Piero received the ball in the box. Taribo West came over and shoved him in the back. Ceccarini pointed to the spot and set off the entire Inter team. Luigi Simoni was sent to the stands, Pagliuca came racing out of his goal as Zamorano and others barged and harangued the referee. They could not believe that no penalty was given at the other end.
Del Piero would have his penalty saved by Pagliuca but Inter would not be able to capitalise and were denied by Angelo Peruzzi in the Juve goal. The damage, though, had been done. Juve would secure the title in the penultimate match thanks to Inter suffering a late collapse in Bari and would win the title by five points. Inter fans were left to fume over what could have been.
Inter would find success in 97/98, once again in the UEFA Cup. Disposing of Neuchatel Xamax, Lyon, Strasbourg, Schalke and Spartak Moscow, they blitzed Lazio 3-0 in Paris to win their third UEFA Cup of the 90s. It’s a game most remembered for the sensational performance of Ronaldo, his third goal as well as Javier Zanetti’s goal.
Moratti Shoots Himself In The Foot
The summer of 1998 saw Ronaldo on the precipice of immortality before the fateful night before the World Cup Final changed the perception around him a little. He was still frighteningly brilliant, but he wasn’t invincible. That continued into the 1998/99 season.
Moratti sanctioned another summer of big business to try and secure a Scudetto. Roberto Baggio, Nicola Ventola, Andrea Pirlo, Dario Simic, Sebastian Frey and Mikael Silvestre. Inter struggled though as Ronaldo’s knees began to give him issues. The Brazilian would only start 19 league games all season (scoring 14 goals in the process) but could never fully sustain a run of games.
As the team struggled on the pitch, Moratti’s trigger finger became very itchy indeed. Four defeats in the first 11 league games included a 5-3 home loss to Lazio and, despite picking up manager of the year the day before, Simoni was fired to the dismay of Inter fans. He was replaced by Romanian Mircea Lucescu who lasted until early 1999 before Luciano Castellani and then Roy Hodgson returned to try and salvage anything from the season.
At that point though, four managers and utter chaos had conspired to leave Inter slumped in eighth, an astonishing 24 points behind their city rivals and champions, AC Milan. Lowlights included a run of six games where they picked up just two points and capped it off with a 4-0 shellacking at Sampdoria as well as a 2-0 defeat to little Salernitana. Not even a Champions League run to the quarter finals could save this season.
Moratti wanted something big to get Inter back at the top. That something came in the form of Juventus’ recently departed coach Marcello Lippi.
Inter spent the summer of 1999 ripping apart their squad to make room for another summer of spending. Out went Silvestre, Pagliuca, Ventola, Djorkaeff, Winter, Ze Elias, Simeone, Sousa and West. Captain and club legend Giuseppe Bergomi retired in the summer too.
Lippi’s appointment was conditional on one thing – sign Christian Vieri. It would take another world record fee to do it but Moratti was happy to strike the £32 million deal with Lazio for the striker. Vieri was joined in the arrivals by a host of names – Angelo Peruzzi, Luigi Di Biagio, Fabrizio Ferron, Christian Panucci, Grigoris Georgatos, Laurent Blanc, Cyril Domoraud, Adrian Mutu, Clarence Seedorf and Vladimir Jugovic.
In Moratti’s mind this should have been the season but Lippi’s reign was a disaster from the off. He immediately alienated Roberto Baggio and consistently sought to undermine him at every opportunity including refusing to play him when every other attacker Lippi had was out with lengthy injuries.
That injury list included Ronaldo for most of the season with the Brazilian playing just 8 games all season because of knee problems. Vieri’s 18 goals came in just 24 games while the ongoing issues with Baggio meant a heavy reliance was placed on the rather inconsistent Alvaro Recoba and Zamorano at a detriment to results.
There was hope to be had as the millennium drew in as Lippi’s men began a Coppa Italia campaign that saw them face Lazio in the final. The disappointing league campaign had saw Lippi start to feel the heat from Moratti and he rushed Ronaldo back for the final. The Brazilian’s big return lasted six minutes before he crumpled to the turf and was out for almost two years. Vieri had already been lost to a thigh injury that would cost him a place at Euro 2000 too so the pressure was really on when the cup final was lost.
Heading into the final day of the season, Lippi’s side needed to win at Cagliari to get into a play-off for the final Champions League spot with Parma. It was literally Lippi’s job on the line. As the story goes, he refused to play Baggio once again and only turned to him late on when he realised his side were going to drop points. Baggio scored once and set up another to secure that play-off spot.
Lippi was desperate to win so bit the bullet and picked Baggio from the start against Parma. ‘The Divine Ponytail’ worked his magic, scoring twice to give Inter a 3-1 win and secure Champions League football, Lippi’s job and his departure from Inter to round off a chaotic decade.
Inter’s period of underachievement in the 1990s is a lesson to the negative effects of being trigger happy in your decisions. The sheer number of coaches and flavour of the month players is truly remarkable. This is a club that broke the transfer record twice in three years yet could only finish second twice in Serie A and were almost relegated one season.
Think of the names who turned out in blue and black – Ronaldo, Bergkamp, Blanc, Pirlo, Djorkaeff, Pagliuca, Jonk, Winter, Simeone, Zamorano, Pancev, Ince, Roberto Carlos, Brehme, Klinsmann, Matthaus. Inter was a place where some the world’s best and most promising went to get paid and watch their career flounder in many cases.
Inter’s woes were a lesson in the fickle nature of football. Their answer to everything was to change manager and buy more stars. What did it get them?
A decade of frustration.
1989/90 – Managed by Giovanni Trapattoni, 3rd in Serie A.
1990/91 – Managed by Giovanni Trapattoni, 3rd in Serie A, UEFA Cup winners.
1991/92 – Managed by Corrado Orrico and Luis Suarez, 8th in Serie A.
1992/93 – Managed by Osvaldo Bagnoli, 2nd in Serie A.
1993/94 – Managed by Osvaldo Bagnoli and Giampiero Marini, 13th in Serie A, UEFA Cup winners.
1994/95 – Managed by Ottavio Bianchi, 6th in Serie A.
1995/96 – Managed by Ottavio Bianchi, Luis Suarez and Roy Hodgson, 7th in Serie A.
1996/97 – Managed by Roy Hodgson and Luciano Castellani, 3rd in Serie A.
1997/98 – Managed by Luigi Simoni, 2nd in Serie A, UEFA Cup winners.
1998/99 – Managed by Luigi Simoni, Mircea Lucescu, Luciano Castellani and Roy Hodgson, 8th in Serie A.
1999/2000 – Managed by Marcello Lippi, 4th in Serie A.