It has been a bittersweet fortnight for AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi. His season was ended by a knee injury yet pride is the 37-year-old's overriding emotion after he struck twice in the 2-2 draw against Real Madrid CF on UEFA Champions League Matchday 4 to take his tally to 70 goals in UEFA club competitions.
"The roar of San Siro that welcomed me on to the pitch, and then breaking a record," said the man nicknamed 'Superpippo', "those were very beautiful emotions that will always stay with me." The former Juventus player has defied the odds numerous times, most recently bouncing back under coach Massimiliano Allegri having endured a difficult campaign under Leonardo last term. But while his team are well placed in second in Group G ahead of their trip to AJ Auxerre, Inzaghi has to pick himself up and dust himself down.
He requires surgery on the knee ligament injury sustained in the 3-1 win against US Città di Palermo on 10 November and is unlikely to be available for European action until the Wembley showpiece on 28 May. Inzaghi knows better than most what it is to play in a European Champion Clubs' Cup final. He has lost the denouement twice, with Juventus in 1998 and with Milan in 2005, yet also lifted the trophy twice with the Rossoneri – in 2003 and 2007, when he scored a couple in the Athens final against Liverpool FC.
"Both were wonderful experiences, but I've always said the Champions League campaign where I was most important was 2003," said Inzaghi. "However, the one the fans remember is 2007, which shows how important goals in a final are. I can't choose one over the other – they're two matches I will never forget. But, as I said, if you score two goals in a Champions League final it's fairly special."
Something equally rare is to be hugged by an opposing coach after very nearly shooting down their side. That is exactly what Inzaghi got from José Mourinho after his two-goal cameo against Madrid as a substitute on 3 November. "He has always said nice things about me and there's a lot of respect even though I've never had him as a manager," said Inzaghi. "I think that to come here and face a hostile crowd, and then embrace a player who has scored two goals against you – and compliment them on their record – was a lovely gesture."
Inzaghi now stands level with ex-Madrid talisman Raúl González at the head of the European goals chart although the FC Schalke 04 forward should have opportunities to pull clear once more as his adversary recovers. "As a footballer I think your own history speaks for itself," added the former Italian international. "It's true I have been paying attention to [the record] because it's been so long we've been competing for it.
"Now he's at Schalke with plenty of chances to play, so I know he'll move ahead again. But to be in first place now makes me very happy. If Raúl moves ahead, I salute him, because he's been a great player." Inzaghi has enjoyed a similarly illustrious career and shows no sign of allowing his latest injury to prove one setback too many.
"The secret is passion," he said. "Passion for what I do, the fact I still enjoy myself like a kid, the fact there's still that strong desire to play and that I feel a lot of affection from everyone who comes to training every day which helps me work even harder. I have the best job in the world. I think that's what the younger players need to learn. I try to enjoy it to the full, enjoy it right to the last. That's probably why, at 37, I'm still getting to experience beautiful evenings like against Madrid."
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