Massimo Moratti took over Inter in the summer of 1995 promising quick relief to the success-starved Internazionale fans. His very first transfer window involved three players who would go on to become legends for different clubs.
To start with, there was Dennis Bergkamp, who had three disappointing seasons since arriving from Ajax and was allowed to leave for London. The rest, as they say, is history. Two relatively unknown fullbacks arrived that season to cover some glaring gaps at the back. While Javier Zanetti would go on to become a club legend and arguably the world’s best right-back, Roberto Carlos’ cameo became a symbol of the legendary shortsightedness at Inter.
A year after he arrived, the club deemed him ordinary and shipped him to Real Madrid in exchange for thirty-year old Ivan Zamorano. Inter finished the 1995-96 season a poor seventh in the domestic league, barely managing to qualify for Europe. By the end of the season they had witnessed the now customary sacking of the manager and Roy Hodgson was appointed in search of the elusive Scudetto.
The summer of 1996 saw more new arrivals in the form of Paul Ince from Manchester United and Youri Djorkajeff from Paris Saint Germain. Hodgson began the season well, but a mid-season collapse saw him lose the job and Inter finish 3rd in the league behind Juventus. In the 8 years since winning its last Scudetto, Inter had appointed 8 managers.
Javier Zanetti: Captain fantastic!
Whiff of big money
The summer of 1997 saw a much loved Luigi Simioni take over as coach of Internazionale. More importantly, the reigning FIFA world player of year Ronaldo was bought for, at the time a world record, fee of 19.5 million dollars. More signings followed in the form of Kanu from Ajax, Diego Simeone from Atletico Madrid and an incredibly talented Alvaro Recoba from Nacional in Uruguay. Inspite of the investment, Inter squad was qualitatively mediocre in comparison to its rivals. That said, Ronaldo was at his unstoppable best. Inter went on to win the last UEFA cup before the tournament switched to its new format.
26 April 1998 – A Black Day
Going into the 31st match day, Inter were just a point behind Juventus. With Ronaldo at the peak of his powers, the Turin edition of Derby d’Italia had all the makings of a title decider. However what Inter fans had not bargained for was the shambolic (and perhaps, corrupt?) refereeing of Piero Ceccarini.
Inter dominated the initial exchanges, but went a goal down against the run of play. On the half-hour mark, Ronaldo was chest butted by Mark Iuliano in what appeared to be the clearest of penalty decisions. The referee chose to wave play on. While Inter players were still protesting, Juventus launched an attack and got a penalty awarded at other end for a very dubious foul. Two decisions within a span of thrity seconds seemed to indicate which way the referee leaned.
Later in the second half, Simeone got sent off for a foul, and yet Edgar Davids managed to commit far more serious offences without attracting even so much as a yellow card. This game only served to add to Inter fans’ suspicions that referees were being bought by Juventus. In retrospect, looking at the Calciopoli fiasco, the allegations weren’t too far fetched at all.
Serie-A at its competitive best
The season 1998-99 saw Simioni sacked by an impatient Moratti, leading to protests by Inter fans. Two months into the season, Ronaldo got himself badly injured and barely featured after that. Sacking the coach and injuries decimated Inter who finished eight in the league. The summer of 1999 saw Marcelo Lippi taking over Inter after enjoying five great seasons at Juventus.
To tackle fan discontent and to support Lippi, Moratti splurged in the transfer market. Christian Vieri arrived for a world record transfer fee. Angelo Peruzzi arrived for a record fee for a goalkeeper. Other big name players signed included Clarence Seedorf and Laurent Blanc. The team, however, never gelled together as a unit and finished a disappointing fourth behind Lazio, Juventus and Milan. The league itself was now highly competitive with Juventus, Milan, Lazio and Roma winning the title in successive seasons. Inter in the meantime never seemed to recover its composure after the disastrous 1998 season and Ronaldo’s career threatening injuries.
Marcelo Lippi was sacked early in the 00-01 season. Marco Tardelli who was brought in as a replacement proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Inter lost 6-0 to rivals Milan in the local derby which meant that Tardelli too found himself unemployed. In search of the elusive Scudetto, Moratti then lured in Hector Cuper from Valencia after taking his former club to back-to-back CL finals.
Inter continued to revel in the highest levels of transfer market stupidity. They famously let go of Andrea Pirlo who had graduated from their academy. He went on to become a legend for the local rivals. Add to that the likes of Clarence Seedorf and Dario Simic, who played much better when they moved to Milan, and Inter had nothing worth crowing about.
The pitiable losers
2001-02 saw Hector Cuper make an ordinary start to the season. Ten games into the season, Ronaldo who had spend best past of past three years on the medical table, returned from injury and sparked a spectacular revival. Powered by the exceptional duo of Ronaldo and Vieri, Inter found themselves at the top spot going into the last round.
On 5th May 2002, three clubs had a realistic chance of winning the scudetto – Inter, Juventus and Roma. Leading the table with 69 points, Inter played away to Lazio. Juventus, second in table, with 68 points were at home to Udinese. Roma, 3rd in the table with 67 points, also had a chance to win provided the other two stumbled. Ironically the home fans (Lazio) were cheering for Inter, as they didn’t want their hated local rivals winning the championship. In spite of leading 2-1 at half-time Inter self destructed and lost 4-2 to Lazio, handing Juventus the title. The day still haunts many fans as they were just forty-five minutes away from the Scudetto.
Roberto Mancini: The man behind Inter’s resurrection
The Resurrection begins
2002-03 saw Ronaldo leave for Real Madrid, replaced by Hernan Crespo, and Fabio Cannavaro arrive for a record fee. Inter finished a distant third to Juventus and Roma. Moratti’s famed impatience got the better of him and three months into 2003-04 season, Hector Cuper was fired even though he got the club closest to the Scudetto since 1989. Alberto Zaccheroni was appointed as replacement and relieved of his duties at the end of the season, after the team managed to finish fourth on the last day of the season.
Inter fans, tired of the impatience of Moratti, protested at years of no results. The summer of 2004 saw a young Roberto Mancini who had won two Italian cups with Fiorentina and Lazio appointed as Manager. Two new officials Marco Branca and Gabriel Orialli were brought in to assist in transfers. Things were about to change.