Ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League tie at San Siro, Carlo Garganese picks the greatest all-time combined Inter-Barcelona XI
Walter Zenga (Inter 1982-94) - Zenga’s nickname, ‘Spiderman’, said it all about this fantastic goalkeeper. Astonishing elasticity and reflexes, Zenga grew up in the Inter youth system and eventually owned the No 1. shirt for 11 straight seasons. He won the Scudetto in 1989, and was also capped 58 times for Italy. During Italia 90’ he established the record of 518 minutes without conceding a goal. However when this did finally occur in the semi-final, it was a costly mistake from Zenga, as his rash decision to come for a cross against Argentina allowed Claudio Cannigia to equalise.
Javier Zanetti (Inter 1995- ) - This brilliantly modest Argentine wing-back signed for Inter in 1995 from Banfied and has been consistently world class for well over a decade. Now at the age of 36, Zanetti has showed no signs of slowing down. A versatile player who can occupy virtually every position in defence and midfield with distinction, ‘The Tractor’ has made over 500 Serie A appearances for the club, winning three on-field Scudetti and a UEFA Cup. Is also Argentina’s most capped-ever player, and played at France 98’ and Korea/Japan 2002.
Giuseppe Bergomi (Inter 1980-99) - Before Zanetti, and after Facchetti and Mazzola, the symbol of Inter was Bergomi. A world-class defender, Bergomi man-marked West German legend Karl-Heinz Rummenigge out of the game in the 1982 World Cup Final while he was just 18-years-old. The moustached stopper holds the Inter all-time appearance record, having played 758 times for the club. He won the Scudetto once and the UEFA Cup three times during an immaculate career. Such was his brilliance that one year before he retired he was called up to Italy’s France 98’ squad after years in the international wilderness – he did not disappoint.
Carles Puyol (Barcelona 1999- ) – For a team that has always focused on attack rather than defence, Barcelona have not possessed too many great centre backs over the years but for the last decade Puyol has been crucial to the Blaugrana’s success. His heart, desire and leadership qualities as captain have shone through, never shirking a challenge on the floor or in the air. With almost 500 senior Barcelona appearances to his name, as well as three league titles and two Champions Leagues, Puyol is a symbol of the club.
Giacinto Facchetti (Inter 1960-78) - Facchetti is undoubtedly the most symbolic player in the history of Inter, this exemplified by the fact that his iconic No.3 shirt has been retired in his honour. A gentleman on-and-off the pitch, Facchetti was a magnificent marker and made numerous marauding runs down the left flank. He won the same major honours as his defensive colleague Tarcisio Burgnich, and with 94 Italian caps to his name, he was the all-time appearance holder for the Azzurri until Dino Zoff originally broke his record.
Lothar Matthaus (Inter 1988-92) - Legendary midfielder, whose longevity in top-class professional football almost matched that of Milan’s Paolo Maldini. He joined Inter in 1988 from Bayern Munich and immediately led the club to the Scudetto in his first season. A complete midfield player, who was superb both offensively and defensively, he was part of the wonderful German trio with Andreas Brehme and Jurgen Klinsmann. Matthaus was FIFA World Player of the Year in 1991, and won a record 150 caps for the German national team, captaining them to World Cup glory at Italia 90’.
Xavi (Barcelona 1998 - ) Quite simply the best midfielder in modern football, and one of the greatest ‘centre’ midfielders of all time. It could even be argued that Xavi and Matthaus are the two best in this position in history. Like Puyol, Xavi is Catalan born and bred, graduating through the Barca youth system. World class for several years now, it is the past three seasons in particular where the 30-year-old has been untouchable. Xavi’s passing is up there with Michel Platini, he creates countless goals with genius through balls while virtually never relinquishing possession. Very rare to watch a game where Xavi doesn’t make the centre of midfield his own.
Luis Suarez (Barcelona 1954-61, Inter 1961-70) - It is often said that Spanish players have never succeeded in Italy, however Suarez more than made up for the numerous failures from his fellow countrymen. The midfielder signed for Inter for a world record fee in 1961 and over the next nine years helped the team to three Scudetti, two European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups. He was twice Ballon d’Or winner, once with Inter, and also lifted the 1964 European Championships with Spain, his country’s first-ever major international honour. At Barcelona he won two La Liga titles and two Fairs Cups, a brilliant dictator of the game with vision, elegance and brains.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona 2004- ) The Argentinian's story of requiring growth hormones when he was a youngster is now written into Barcelona folklore as the club paid for his treatment in exchange for him playing for them, and the debt has been repaid a hundred-fold. Messi showed flashes coming off the bench in his early outings, but in the last four seasons the world has sat up and taken notice of the diminutive genius on the right-side of Barcelona's front three. His close control, speed, turn of pace, ability to beat players and score goals has already seen some question whether he will surpass the legendary Diego Maradona. It is scary to think that Messi is only 22.
Giuseppe Meazza (Inter 1927-40) - Italy’s World Cup-winning Coach from 1934 and 1938, Vittorio Pozzo, said of Meazza: “To have him in your team meant to start 1-0 up”. Meazza was the first Italian football superstar, and was blessed with extraordinary technique, he was a brilliant passer, both-footed, and a lethal goal-scorer, hitting the back of the net 245 times in 348 games for Inter. He won three Scudetti at the club and was Italy’s star man at the aforementioned World Cup successes in 34’ and 38’. He famously scored a crucial penalty in the 38’ semi-final against Brazil as his shorts were falling down, while he also slept at a brothel the night before a match. When he died in 1979, the Milan stadium at San Siro was named after him.
Ronaldinho (Barcelona 2003-2008) - Joining a side that was in the doldrums in 2003 from Paris Saint-Germain, Ronaldinho almost single-handedly lit a spark with his unbelievable skill, strength and tenacity that saw him lead the club to two league titles and the Champions League to end a six-year run without a trophy. In 145 matches he scored 70 goals for the club and so many stunning efforts spring to mind along with his dazzling ball skills. Everything that the club is currently enjoying can be laid at his magical feet. At his peak between 2003 and 2006, Ronnie was the closest thing we have seen to unplayable since the time of Maradona, and everyone will remember when he single-handedly crushed Real Madrid in El 2005-06 Clasico, earning a standing-ovation from the Santiago Bernabeu.
Selecting an all-time Inter-Barcelona XI was no easy task, and this can be shown by the number of legends who did not make the team. Please remember that players were selected first and foremost based on what they did for Inter and Barcelona respectively. For this reason, Diego Maradona - who had two injury-plagued seasons at Barca, is not considered.
In defence, Tarcisio Burgnich, Armando Picchi and Riccardo Ferri were close to making it an all-Inter backline but Puyol deserves to be recognised for single-handedly at times marshalling Barca’s defence over the last decade.
In midfield, there are numerous world class players who miss out, including Pep Guardiola, Johan Neeskens, Michael Laudrup, Rivaldo, Luis Figo, Sandro Mazzola and Mario Corso. Mazzola and Rivaldo are the hardest done-by perhaps, but it was impossible to leave out any of the three midfielders that made it.
In attack, many will be scratching their heads over the omission of a certain Johan Cruyff. While the Dutchman is no doubt a legend at Camp Nou, his best club years undoubtedly arrived at Ajax and he only won a single La Liga title as a player. The same cannot be said about Messi, Meazza and Ronaldinho who also see off the tough challenges of stars such as Sandor Kocsis, Ladislav Kubala, Ronaldo, Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Paulino Alcantara, Roberto Boninsegna and Alessandro Altobelli.
Zanetti – Bergomi – Puyol – Facchetti
Matthaus – Xavi – Suarez
Messi – Meazza – Ronaldinho