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The greatest teams of all time: Inter 1962–67

"He'd train our brains before our legs," said Sandro Mazzola of Helenio Herrera, whose FC Internazionale Milano side won their second European Cup 50 years ago.

The greatest teams of all time: Inter 1962–67
The greatest teams of all time: Inter 1962–67 ©UEFA.com

UEFA.com analyses the teams that changed football; this time, the FC Internazionale Milano side that proved near-impossible to beat in the mid-1960s.

The golden age
Without a trophy since 1954, Inter drafted in FC Barcelona's Franco-Argentinian boss Helenio Herrera in 1960, fresh from securing back-to-back Spanish titles. His team ended up lifting the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1964 and 1965 – and the corresponding European/South American Cups.

The 'Grande Inter' also claimed the Scudetto in 1962/63, 1964/65 and 1965/66 and just missed out on the 1963/64 crown, losing a play-off to Bologna FC. Defeat by Celtic FC in the 1967 European Cup final perhaps marked the end of the golden age, but in the Serie A seasons from 1961/62 to 1966/67 they were phenomenally mean, conceding less than a goal a game throughout – and letting in only 20 in 1962/63, or 0.59 per match.

The baton handover
Real Madrid CF had won the first five editions of the European Cup when they met Inter in the 1964 final, and with Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás still potent, were expected to come out on top in Vienna. However, Sandro Mazzola scored twice in a 3-1 victory as Inter established themselves as a new force.

"In the tunnel, I suddenly saw Di Stéfano," Mazzola told UEFA.com. "It felt like he was two metres tall – for me he was the god of football, the player I admired most. That's why that final remains the most important one, because we were up against the team of my dreams – the team I used to watch on TV. And we beat them, and I scored two goals and made another – it was amazing."

The game-changing philosophy
Herrera was not the inventor of the famously defensive 'Catenaccio' (door-bolt in Italian) system, but he was perhaps its most successful exponent. Having tried in vain to introduce Barcelona's more fluid attacking style in his first campaigns, he moved a midfielder back to act as sweeper, adopted a rigid man-marking policy, and freed his left-back to attack at will. Armando Picchi emerged as a world-class 'libero' under Herrera, while Giacinto Facchetti shone as one of the first attacking left-backs.

A solid defence, however, was not everything. Skilful midfielders and pacy forwards were key to the lethal counterattacks launched by Inter. "I want vertical football at great speed, with no more than three passes to get to the box," said 'Il Mago' (the magician). "If you lose the ball playing vertically, it's not a problem – lose it laterally and you pay with a goal."

Helenio Herrera
Helenio Herrera©empics

The tactical genius
Herrera's insistence on fitness and mental preparation was something new – his Inter were introduced to the concept of the 'ritiro' – a pre-match retreat, which removed the team from outside distractions. Herrera used to speak of games "we won before we even got off the coach", vaunting his side's immense mental poise. His motivational mantras remain legendary: "Class + Preparation + Intelligence + Athleticism = Scudetto", "If you play for yourself, you play for your opponents; if you play for the team, you play for yourself."

"He was light years ahead," said Mazzola. "He used to train our brains before our legs."

The star players
Giacinto Facchetti: The man who brought full-backs out of their shells, Facchetti scored 75 goals in all competitons as a left-back, and was crucial to Inter's brilliance on the break. "He was a wonderful team-mate and the authoritative figure in the squad," remembered Mazzola. "He was always ready to battle."

Luis Suárez: Having worked together successfully at Barcelona, Suárez rejoined Herrera at Inter in 1961. This 'Arquitecto del fútbol' (architect of football) operated as a deep-lying midfielder, his passing, vision and experience essential to the cause. "To build a great Inter side, I needed a great midfielder and Suárez was the best of all," Herrera said.

Sandro Mazzola: Son of Italian footballing legend Valentino Mazzola, who was killed in the Superga air disaster of 1949 along with the bulk of the great Torino FC team, attacker Sandro Mazzola spent his entire career with Inter. 'Il baffo' (the moustache) netted over 100 Serie A goals with the Nerazzurri.

What they said
Sandro Mazzola: "My Inter had something that nobody else had: we were both solid and skilful, a combination that made us one of the best teams ever."

Luis Suárez: "I will never forget the light in the eyes of our president [Angelo Moratti] after our triumph in Vienna. If I was a painter and I had to paint 'happiness', I would try to reproduce those eyes."

Italian journalist Mario Sconcerti: "Herrera's football was all about confidence – not many ideas but all very clear. A psychological hammering that today would appear ridiculous but that could turn his teams in war machines. There was no ambivalence – he wanted to be loved and feared. To those who accused him of arrogance, he replied that his only fault was to be the best."