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Inter regain their 60s swagger

A player from the last FC Internazionale Milano team to conquer Europe, Sandro Mazzola hopes the similarities between his side and the current vintage bode well for the final.

Inter regain their 60s swagger
Inter regain their 60s swagger ©UEFA.com

The last time FC Internazionale Milano were crowned European champions was in television's black-and-white era. Technology has since moved into HD but, according to former Nerazzurri great Sandro Mazzola, the sides that lifted the trophy in 1964 and 1965 bear more than a passing resemblance to the one that faces FC Bayern München in the UEFA Champions League final. It is a likeness, he told UEFA.com, that starts with the coaches: Helenio Herrera and José Mourinho.

"I think Mourinho is very similar to Herrera in many ways," said Mazzola, who scored twice in Inter's 3-1 final triumph over Real Madrid CF in 1964. "First, because he immediately brought the ball back into training – in many places in Italy the ball is a bit forgotten, but it's the most important tool you use as a player. Herrera did the same when he arrived in Italy. You didn't train much with the ball, but when he arrived he began to use it immediately.

"Another parallel is their relationship with the players," the 67-year-old continued. "They say, 'I'm the coach, I listen to you but I decide.' And they are also similar in their dealings with the press. We are talking different generations, so of course it was a bit different then, but not by much. When Herrera came to Italy, nobody really knew the names of the coaches, nobody cared about the coaches, they didn't really appear in the press, they only worked in the dressing room and on the pitch. And he turned things around. Mourinho, in his way, is a little bit the same."

Another connection between the teams is the name of the president. Angelo Morrati, president of Mazzola's Inter, was the father of current supremo Massimo Moratti. "Angelo was the first modern president who understood football," Mazzola said. "He guided the club with straightforward ideas, with order. He knew how to be human. I think he was the first great president in Italian football."

Many observers compared the tactics used by Mourinho in the semi-final second leg against FC Barcelona to the Catenaccio style that made Herrera's side famous. The Nerazzurri, 3-1 up after the home opener, gave a defensive masterclass in losing 1-0 away to the holders – despite playing with ten men for an hour – to book their place in the 22 May final at the Santiago Bernabéu. If circumstances demanded such a niggardly approach from Mourinho's charges in Catalonia, so Mazzola insists that the 1960s' vintage, contrary to popular belief, also played much of their football on the front foot.

"When I hear about Inter playing Catenaccio, I have to say we played about six matches with Catenaccio and 40 matches with attacking football," the former Italy inside forward said. "I remember my team-mates [Armando] Picchi and [Aristide] Guarneri, two centre-backs, who during San Siro home games could spend 60 minutes looking into the stands, trying to spot a girl to take out that evening because the opposition only played in their half. But then, when we played abroad – and I guess this was a mistake – we didn't feel very comfortable and secure, and stayed back more."

Even so, 'La Grande Inter' managed to beat Madrid and SL Benfica in their two final successes, with Mazzola remembering clearly the matches against "great players" such as Alfredo di Stéfano and Eusébio. The resulting celebrations left an even deeper impression. "Fantastic – cars everywhere, it was very nice, perhaps the first time it was celebrated that way. It was the first time people came to the airport, came into the areas they weren't allowed to – just fantastic."

Forty-five years have passed, yet Mazzola, who also scored in the 2-1 final loss to Celtic FC in 1967 and played in the 2-0 defeat by AFC Ajax in 1972, thinks the time is ripe for the blue-and-black half of Milan to revel in European glory once again. "Inter have been close to the semi-finals or even final, but even now, when you say 45 years, it doesn't seem that long ago – maybe because I experienced it and it seems closer to me. But the number 45, it's four and five and that makes nine, and nine is a lucky number at least for me, so it could be a good year."