This article is an extract from the latest issue of Champions Journal which is available to purchase now.
“Leaving New York, never easy,” sang R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. Leaving Rome, the Eternal city, might have been just as complicated for Simone Inzaghi after 22 years as first player then coach at Lazio. But the 45-year-old has landed on his feet at Inter Milan. It helps that after just five months he had already achieved what every other Inter coach in the past decade could not: he has led the 2010 winners into the Champions League knockout stage.
“It was so weird that Inter hadn’t got past the group stage in ten years,” says Inzaghi, who has maintained his predecessor’s 3-5-2 set-up. “I found a team that performed very well in previous years with [Antonio] Conte and this formation. My job has been made easier thanks to the two years the team spent playing with Antonio.”
Inzaghi, though, has added a light touch of his own. “The team has to play freely. You have to allow your players a bit of freedom so they can express themselves better on the pitch. I think they’re doing that.”
It’s an approach to life that he has enjoyed since childhood, playing alongside his elder brother Filippo, three years his senior. “Football has been my life from a very young age. When I was small, I dreamt of becoming a football player. I played with my brother every day. I tried to read the [Gazzetta dello Sport] newspaper even before I started going to school.
“We supported Piacenza, which was later where we started our careers. They were in Serie C at the time and our father took us to the San Siro to watch games. We used to play together in the park, so it was thanks to my brother that I was able to play against children three years older than me. This helped me in the beginning, then throughout my career as a player. Watching him achieve so much has been a big help and source of motivation.”
Simone Inzaghi had a very good career as a striker, including scoring four times for Lazio in a Champions League game against Marseille in 2000. But it’s not comparable to the success of Filippo, a tormentor of European defences for years and twice a European Cup winner with the Rossoneri. As a coach, however, Simone is well ahead of Superpippo, who is at Brescia in Serie B this term. Loved by Lazio fans, who gave him an emotional welcome when Inter played in Rome this season, the younger Inzaghi has stepped out of his comfort zone for this new challenge.
“In my five years at Lazio we always managed to qualify for European competition – and we won three trophies, so it was rewarding. Arriving at Inter was very emotional. I’m at a huge club and we’re on the same path. I was immediately integrated. It’s only been a short time, but it feels like I’ve been here for much longer. There was immediately a good feeling with the team, the club and the supporters. They are our secret weapon. Masses of them always follow us, not just when we play at the San Siro. They really motivate us.”
As for settling in Milan, it’s not been so tough leaving Rome after all. “Whenever I have a little bit of free time I go into the city and I feel the European atmosphere; there are always so many foreigners. It’s a modern city and living my everyday life here is great. Football is always present. Inter and Milan have made history in the past 40 or 50 years… I hope they’ll start to win as much again.”