For a moment, let us forget who manages Inter. Because, for all the plaudits that Jose Mourinho is getting after Inter’s remarkable victory over Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final, there are people who deserve just as much credit as ‘The Special One’ for the triumph.
Firstly, Esteban Cambiasso. The Argentine was brilliant in both legs and helped to shut down both Lionel Messi and Xavi, the two key players for the Blaugrana. His work rate and discipline were second to none, and the chance to play in a Champions League Final at the home of Real Madrid, who discarded him several years ago, will be a great chance to show Los Merengues and their fans just what they are missing.
Secondly, and they deserve equal credit, are the South American centre-half pairing of Walter Samuel and Lucio. The Brazilian captain has settled into the Nerazzurri back four perfectly and looks as if he has been playing for the side for years. In the past, the former Bayern Munich man has been accused of neglecting his defensive duties and going forward too much, but this game showed that he can defend as well as anybody. As for Samuel, his disciplinary record may well have had Inter fans worried when they realised that he would be under 90 minutes of constant pressure at the Camp Nou, but he did his job admirably and he and Lucio may well be the best defensive duo in Europe at the moment.
In fact, every single player – perhaps with the exception of Thiago Motta – who took to the pitch on Wednesday evening has every reason to be proud of their performance. Whilst some may argue that Inter’s game plan was anti-football, almost every team that goes to the Camp Nou with the intention of out-playing Barca gets a severe beating, something which hardly offered Inter the incentive to beat the Catalans at their own game. When Guus Hiddink nearly guided Chelsea past Barca last season using very similar tactics he was lauded as a hero, so surely Mourinho and his team deserve the same high praise.
One happy sub-plot to Inter’s appearance in the final will be Javier Zanetti. No-one will be happier at la Beneamata’s progression than il trattore, who has been at Inter through all the tough times as well as the more recent good ones. Zanetti has been giving world-class performances for Inter for years, one of the side’s most consistent players even when they never looked like winning Serie A or getting particularly far in the Champions League. Many players came and went under the stewardship of a ridiculous number of managers, but the Argentine stayed loyal and will now get the ultimate reward when he leads out the side in Madrid on May 22.
The final man to credit is, of course, Jose Mourinho. This European campaign which so nearly ended in the group stage, has been turned around by the tactical changes of this precociously gifted Coach. His use of the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 systems through the knock-out stages have given his side a new lease of life, and the beating of Barcelona may well be the finest result of his career to date. Despite the fact that this season’s Serie A campaign has been somewhat shaky for the Nerazzurri, getting to the Champions League final will have more than made up for that in the minds of the fans, and his future at the club – which looked uncertain only a month ago – will only be ended now should he decide to leave in the summer.
Inter’s success is not only a big result for the club, but also for the whole of Serie A. The Italian league has been the butt of many jokes over the last few years – despite clubs from the peninsula being the most successful in terms of titles won – and Inter winning where Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have all failed in the last couple of seasons will hopefully restore to Calcio some of the respect it deserves in the eyes of the world. So for that, grazie Inter and grazie Jose.