Inter’s 2009/10 side are part of 90min’s 20 Greatest Teams of the Decade series.
As Camp Nou began to empty at a fire-drill velocity, José Mourinho sprinted across the Catalan turf with his right arm raised, pointing to the heavens as he basked in an unthinkable semi-final success.
In an attempt to rain on Mourinho and Inter’s parade, Barcelona resorted to switching on the sprinklers – such was the animosity and disdain shared between the two. But a few drops of water would not deter
Admittedly, that night in Barcelona was not the final piece of the puzzle. Inter then had to travel across Spain to Madrid, where they would take on – and defeat – Bayern Munich. But the final result somehow seemed a foregone conclusion due to what had prefaced it at Camp Nou.
This is, of course, the Inter side of 2009/10. And what a side it was.
On the 2 June 2008, Mourinho replaced Roberto Mancini at San Siro, and the expectations were already through the roof over this new collaboration. The 2008/09 season saw Inter lift the Serie A trophy, finishing an impressive ten points ahead of second-place Milan.
But it wasn’t enough for Inter fans. The season’s celebrations were bittersweet for some, given the club’s failure to progress in the Champions League.
That summer, Mourinho ripped up the squad and set about assembling his own personal troop of soldiers.
Luis Figo retired, Adriano, Julio Cruz and Hernan Crespo all left the club, and they were quickly replaced by Thiago Motta, Diego Milito and Wesley Sneijder. Zlatan Ibrahimovic also departed San Siro in a swap deal which saw the Swede join Barcelona, and Samuel Eto’o replace him at Inter.
The Portuguese boss had built a squad for the here and now, doused with experience and grit, but also laced with star talent and match-winning capabilities.
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar was protected by a backline which contained warriors such as Javier Zanetti, Lucio, Walter Samuel and Cristian Chivu, with Marco Materazzi and Ivan Cordoba playing bit-part roles when called upon.
The midfield was a combination of steel and guile, with experienced heads Dejan Stankovic, Motta and Estaban Cambiasso allowing Sneijder, Goran Pandev or Sulley Muntari to cause problems further up the pitch.
Ex-Genoa striker Milito led the line for Mourinho, with Eto’o playing slightly out of position on the left-hand side, and Mario Balotelli providing adequate backup to the attacking stars.
With a league title to build upon, Inter and Mourinho were ready for action once again.
A defeat in the Supercoppa final to Lazio and a tame draw against Bari in the opening game of the season cast doubts over Inter’s new-look side, but a few tweaks from their enigmatic boss saw Inter begin to find their feet.
A scudetto was almost a prerequisite for Mourinho following the previous season’s success, but all eyes were on their Champions League campaign, after crashing out in the round of 16 the season before.
Last year’s European champions Barcelona were pitted alongside I Nerazzurri in Group F, and the tie was billed as the ultimate ‘trial by fire’ for Mourinho’s men.
If that was the case, then they came out of their test burnt to a crisp.
Inter held Barca to a 0-0 draw in Italy, but they were easily beaten in the reverse fixture at Camp Nou, in what was perceived as a wake-up call for those dreaming of European success. Inter did navigate their way to the knock-out rounds, however, finishing second behind Pep Guardiola’s side.
That’s not the last we’ll hear of them.
Back to the trials and tribulations of domestic football, and Inter were sitting pretty at the top of the table after only seven matches. A 2-1 victory over Udinese lifted Inter to the summit of Italian football, where they would remain for the majority of the season.
And they did so in typical Mourinho style – which felt almost tailored to the demands of Serie A.
Italy’s most successful club Juventus has adopted the adage ‘winning isn’t important – it’s the only thing that matters,’ demonstrating the overriding attitudes towards success and style in Serie A.
So Inter’s robust, counter-attacking play, built on a strong defensive shape took Serie A by storm, and regardless of how ugly they had to play in order to win, each three points was celebrated as passionately as the last.
New-signing Milito was having a fantastic debut season with Inter and the Argentine striker would go on to bag 22 league goals – and some vital strikes in the Champions League, too.
Speaking of which, Mourinho had guided Inter through the round of 16 in Europe, with Samuel Eto’o bagging a crucial away goal at Stamford Bridge to sink his manager’s former club, Chelsea. The Italian hopefuls then eased past CSKA Moscow, winning both legs by a solitary goal to nil, setting up the juiciest semi-final tie imaginable.
José vs Pep. Eto’o vs Ibrahimovic. Defence vs Attack. Evil vs Good. Efficiency vs Entertainment. Inter vs Barcelona.
It’s fair to say, Mourinho had learned from his earlier defeats to Barca, and he provided a masterclass in stopping Guardiola’s side, overseeing a 3-1 victory at San Siro to set up a tense second leg in Catalonia.
The semi-final in Barcelona will go down as one of the most dramatic and memorable in Champions League history. La Blaugrana racked up a staggering 86% possession, 20 shots to Inter’s one and only effort at goal, and the hosts played the match with a man advantage for over an hour.
But they only managed one goal.
Inter provided us with the ultimate Mourinho experience. They parked the bus. They defended for their lives. They time-wasted. With a touch of good fortune along the way, Inter scrapped, scraped and battled their way to the unlikeliest of 1-0 defeats.
It was so ugly and dogged – the opposite of everything that Guardiola and Barcelona stood for.
It was Mourinho’s greatest ever defeat.
Inter won their final five matches of the domestic season, which included tough ties against Juventus and Lazio, and a rollercoaster 4-3 victory over Chievo in the penultimate game of the campaign.
They edged out Roma by two points to lift the Serie A trophy for a second consecutive season, and they also defeated I Giallorossi in the Coppa Italia final thanks to a goal from Milito, securing an excellent domestic double.
All that was left was the small matter of a European final against Bayern. Mourinho’s big-game players once again put in a performance of a lifetime, and a brace from that man Milito saw Inter lift the big trophy, and write their names into footballing history.
The 2009/10 Inter side became the first Italian team -and the only one to date – to win the illustrious treble, completing a perfect season for Mourinho and co.
It’s rare that a group of players can truly embody their manager on the pitch, who in turn defends them to the very end. Mourinho’s immediate exit from Inter following the Champions League final was seen as the departure of the oracle, the one man who truly understood what it meant to be Nerazzurro.
Inter have not achieved such heights since that famous season, and the 2009/10 team cements itself deeper into Nerazzurri history with each passing year.
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