Supporting FC Internazionale Milano can be a curse but victory over their city rivals would end 15 years of hurt.
By Paolo Menicucci
"Supporting Inter means deciding to make your life more complicated. It's like supporting the Indians against the cowboys, it means having a touch of masochism and melancholy." So wrote Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini, one of the most famous FC Internazionale Milano supporters, in his book Interismi. "We know we have chosen a difficult love, but this makes it even more beautiful."
Despite countless coaching changes and spending vast amounts in the transfer market every summer, Inter have not won the Scudetto since 1989, although they have lifted three UEFA Cups in that time. "Non vincete mai" - you never win – is the usual refrain from AC Milan supporters after derby successes, and it happened again last week when Inter were defeated 2-0 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final.
Even Inter fans have learnt to joke about their team's results with a surprising self-irony. After suffering so much disappointment they are renowned for their gallows humour. Last season, they reacted to news that striker Mohamed Kallon had failed a drugs test with a banner reading: "After 14 years, finally something positive."
Inter's misery is greater because their slump has coincided with one of the most glittering periods in the history of their city rivals. In the last two seasons, Milan have won the Champions League and the Scudetto, and have even benefited from some of Inter's decisions in the transfer market.
In the quarter-final first leg, half the midfield that started for Milan — Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf – was made up of former Inter players and the Rossoneri did not spend a single euro, having swapped them for two players they did not want, Francesco Coco and Andrés Guglielminpietro.
While Pirlo and Seedorf have been key men for Milan, Guglielminpietro made 30 starts for Inter in two seasons before being sold to Bologna FC, while Coco is enduring a frustrating career with the Nerazzurri as a series of injuries have limited him to five appearances in two years.
But the suffering is more heartfelt on the pitch. Even when Inter do well, they never manage to win. Three years ago they led the league going into the last day of the season when they faced S.S. Lazio, a side with nothing to play for. Inter went ahead twice before falling apart and losing 4-2 to hand the Scudetto to Juventus FC.
People are beginning to ask whether the club are cursed. The subject was raised after a 2-2 home draw with Bologna when the latter team's 67-year-old coach Carlo Mazzone - a man with nearly 40 years' coaching experience - said: "Inter have had virtually every kind of coach: big, little, experienced, young, bald and hairy. Maybe there really is some sort of curse on them."
The recent history of Milan derbies is also frustrating for Inter. The 6-0 defeat in 2001 or the 3-2 in 2004, after Inter were 2-0 up in the first half, are typical examples. Worst of all was their previous Champions League meeting with the Rossoneri in the 2002/03 semi-finals as Inter went out on away goals - an irony given the two clubs share the same stadium.
"We are always ready to show our anger towards Inter, but then we are immediately ready to get extremely enthusiastic about a single victory," Severgnini wrote. An aggregate win over Milan after their 2-0 first-leg defeat would probably cancel 15 years of frustration for the Nerazzurri fans.