La Grande Inter: Helenio Herrera (1910-1997) – Il Mago

La Grande Inter: Helenio Herrera (1910-1997) – Il Mago
October 15, 2012 20:00
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Surely, none of us have forgotten the amazing Inter team that gave us so much joy in 2010. La Triplete was something unique and for a little while Inter found themselves at the top of the Italian and the international football. We all remember people like Samuel Eto’o, Wesley Sneijder, Javier Zanetti, Diego Milito, José Mourinho or any of the other heroes who gave us so much joy and pride. But how many of us remember and know about people like Sandro Mazzola, Luis Suárez, Giacinto Facchetti, Mario Corso, Helenio Herrera and the other heroes known as La Grande Inter? Since many of us were not born at the time, it is natural that we do not have any personal memories of this great team but that does not mean that we can not know how Inter in the 1960’s dominated world football. During the upcoming weeks I will be presenting the people who contributed to so many wins and who wrote so many pages in Inter’s history, people who, together were called La Grande Inter.

In the first part of this series, I give a general description of La Grande Inter’s achievements over the period from 1960 to 1968, which is impossible to do without also mentioning the team’s architect, the coach that was not only important for Inter, but also for world football: Helenio Herrera.

Riposa In Pace, Il Mago.

Early life and career as football player (1910-1944)

Helenio Herrera Gavilan was born on april 10 1910, a date which is still uncertain because it is rumored that he changed his year of birth to 1916 during the 1950’s. Herrera was born in Argentina but both his parents were from Spain. His father was a well-known anarchist, and was thus an opponent of the Spanish monarchy and Alfonso XIII of Spain, circumstances which forced the family to live abroad in exile. When Helenio was four years old the family moved to Morocco where he eventually became a French citizen.

Before he became a coach Herrera had a career as a player, but that was not what would make him a legend. Herrera was a defender and launched his career at RC Casablanca before moving to the mainland and CASG Paris. He also played for Stade Francais and Excelsior Roubaix before World War II broke out. During the war he played for Red Star Paris, Stade Francais, EF Paris Capitale and finally Puteaux where he began his managerial career by being a playing coach.

The career as a coach takes off (1944-1959)

His career as a coach continued on when Herrera returned to Stade Francais for a third time and stayed at the club for three seasons. However, the success failed to appear and when the owner sold the club Herrera moved to Spain and spent the next six seasons coaching Real Valladolid, Atlético Madrid, CD Málaga, Deportivo La Coruna and Sevilla FC. During his time in Atlético Madrid he won two league titles. After a brief spell in Portuguese CF Os Belenenses Herrera returned to Spain, where he received the prestigious job as coach of FC Barcelona. Looking at the results, the time in Barcelona was a success with two league titles, two Inter City Fairs Cup (the equivalent of todays Europa League) and a title in the Spanish Cup. Despite all the titles with Barcelona things were not all peace and joy. Herrera’s authoritarian leadership style was not appreciated, and his relationship with the team’s Hungarian star Ladislao Kubala was anything but good. After two seasons with the club, the situation became unsustainable and Herrera was eventually fired.

Helenio Herrera takes over Inter (1960)

At Inter, Angelo Moratti had taken over as president in 1955 and he was very unhappy with the fact that the team had not won a Scudetto since 1954. Moratti knew that Herrera had problems in Barcelona and since he was so impressed by the coach, not least in connection with FC Barcelona knocking Inter out of the Inter City Fairs Cup, he ensured that Herrera would coach the team in the upcoming season before Herrera even was fired from the Spanish club. The year was 1960 and Herreras move to Inter made him by far the highest paid coach at the time.

The 1960/61 season

Inter started the first season under Helenio Herrera in a fantastic way: four straight wins while scoring 18 goals. After a little more than a month of the season Herrera’s team was alone at the top of the table but was chased by Juventus and Roma. During the first half of the season Inter lost only two matches and were three points ahead of AC Milan and one more ahead of the surprise team Catania. Juventus, who started out surprisingly weak and was in sixth place at the time, started the season’s second part in a fantastic way and won five games in a row and closed in on Inter at the top of the table. Their winning streak was stopped in march by Milan but it did not help Inter who at the same time lost agains Lecco, a loss that was only the first of four straight for Inter. Juventus overtook the lead in Serie A with AC Milan in second place. With seven rounds left of the season Inter were set to face Juventus in Turin in a match that would lead to one of many scandals in Italian football in which Inter suffered while Juventus won benefits. The match, which was played on April 16, was cancelled when Inter were leading 2-0 after the pitch was invaded by supporters who had entered the stadium without tickets and Inter were awarded the victory by 2-0, a decision that obviously was appealed by Juventus. Going into the final round of the season Inter and Juventus were tied for the lead in Serie A with 46 points each when the FIGC (Italian Football Federation) announced that it upheld Juventus appeal and decided that the match should be replayed. In this context it should be mentioned that the one who was president of the FIGC at the time was Umberto Agnelli, who was also president of Juventus… The decision meant that Juventus now instead were alone at top of Serie A, two points ahead of Inter, and in what should have been the last round Juventus drew 1-1 against Bari, while Inter lost to Catania 2-0. Juventus were crowned Italian champions under these strange circumstances. The delayed game between Juventus and Inter was played the week after the season was supposed to have ended and was won by Juventus with a score of 9-1. Inter finished third in the table. Nowadays, Juventini are bragging about this victory but what they do not know, or at least pretend not to know, are the circumstances surrounding the match. In fact, Inter president Angelo Moratti ordered Helenio Herrera to only use players from the Primavera team to protest against the FIGC’s decision. Meanwhile Juventus used their regular team. Inter’s goal scorer in the game: 18-year-old Sandro Mazzola.

The 1961/62 season

Before the 1961/62 season Herrera made sure that Inter acquired his star midfield from his time in FC Barcelona, Luis Suárez, who had won the Ballon d’Or  in 1960. Inter once again started the season well and held the lead in Serie A for the first half of the season and for a long time they were chased by Torino and Atalanta while the other big teams had big problems. When the season was turned Inter were at the top of the table, four points ahead of Fiorentina and Bologna. Just like the previous season, Inter’s performances were weaker during the spring season and after a home defeat against Roma, Fiorentina and Milan caught up. Inter’s victory in the subsequent Milan derby was therefore extremely important and many believed that Inter’s road to the Scudetto was wide open. A very unexpected loss to SPAL put a stop to Inter’s hopes and the lead was overtaken by Fiorentina, who in turn was passed by AC Milan who were in great shape during the end of the season. The champions from the previous year, Juventus, finished the season with seven straight losses and finished twelfth.

The 1962/63 season

Inter won the Scudetto in 1962/63 with a defense that was almost impossible for opponents to get through. Before the season, Inter had reinforced the team by acquiring Tarcisio Burgnich who had been rejected by Juventus but had performed well during a season with Palermo. Another acquisition that became important was that of Brazilian Jair, a striker who had been rejected by AC Milan. The deciding moment of the season came in the 31st round when Inter won the Derby d’Italia by a score of 1-0. The youngster Sandro Mazzola made the decisive goal. In the following round Inter secured the Scudetto despite a 0-3 loss to Roma, because at the same time Juventus only managed a draw against Mantova. During the season there were three aspiring legends who got their breakthrough and became a regular in the Inter starting eleven: Giacinto Facchetti, Armando Picchi and Sandro Mazzola.

The 1963/64 season

During the summer ahead of the 1963/64 season Inter acquired the experienced goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti from Fiorentina, the German national team midfielder Horst Szymaniak and striker Aurelio Milani from Catania who shared the lead in scoring in 1961/62. Inter started the season as they finished the previous one and did not lose in Serie A until the 14th round when Juventus were too strong. Even AC Milan were strong and were, for a long time, at the top of the table during the first half of the season. The surprise Bologna managed to line up ten straight wins and on February 9, the team overtook the first place in the table. Inter were also one of the teams at the top of the table and the season were to become one of the most exciting ever. In early March the Italian Football Federation announced that five Bologna players had tested positive for amphetamines after the victory against Torino on February 2. Torino was awarded the victory and Bologna were punished a deduction of one point. After large protests the tests were examined further and it turned out that they had been tampered with and that the levels of amphetamine were far too high for any human to even survive such an intake. On May 16, with three rounds remaining, the ruling was suspended and Herrera’s Inter, who previously were in sole leadership, were now joined by Bologna. In the remaining three rounds it was impossible to separate the two teams as the both drew to games and won one game. Bologna had the better goal difference, but according to the rules the winner of the Scudetto would be determined by a playoff game between the teams at a neutral venue. It was decided that the game would be played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on June 7. A person that did not get the opportunity to see the game was Bologna’s president Renato Dall’ara. He actually died of a heart attack he suffered during a heated discussion with Inter president Angelo Moratti regarding the details for the game. Bologna won the playoff game by a score of 2-0 and thus the Scudetto of 1963/64 after the Danish Harald Nielsen, who became Serie A’s the top scorer, scored one of the goals.

Local rivals AC Milan’s victory in the European Cup during the 1962/63 season had deprived some of the joy of Scudetto and there was a big hunger for revenge at Inter. The European Cup, which was the equivalent of today’s Champions League, was played entirely as a knockout tournament with no group stage at the time. The big favorites were the Spanish giants Real Madrid who had made it to seven of the nine finals played in the tournaments history. Inter, qualifying as Italian champions, defeated in turn Everton, AS Monaco, Partizan Belgrade and Borussia Dortmund before it was set to face Real Madrid in the final which was played at the Prater Stadium in Vienna on May 27 1964. Real Madrid had a fantastic team with Hungarian Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stéfano as the big stars. Helenio Herrera’s Inter managed to defeat Real Madrid 3-1 after Sandro Mazzola has two goals and Aurelio Milani one. A player who may have played the game of his life was Inter’s defensive midfielder Carlo Tagnin, who managed to completely shut down Real Madrid’s Di Stéfano and gave Inter midfielder Suarez and Corso free rein. Inter went undefeated through the tournament and became the first team ever to achieve the feat.

The 1964/65 season

Copa Intercontinentale, or the the World Club Championship as it is also known was at this time limited to a double meeting between the winner of the European Cup and the winner of the Copa Libertadores, the South American Cup champions. Inter were the winners of the European Cup and qualified for the finals of the Copa Intercontinentale that was played in september 1964, the same time that the Italian season began. The opponents in the final were Argentinian Independiente who started at home and defeated Inter with 1-0. In the second game at San Siro Inter won 2-0 and forced a third and deciding game. A game that was played at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid and won by Inter 1-0 after a goal by Mario Corso.

The fight for the Scudetto 1964/65 turned out to be a battle between the two teams of Milan. With half the season played AC Milan topped the table with five points margin, including a victory in the derby 3-0. The lead then increased to seven points at the end of January 1965 and it seemed as if AC Milan had an advantage in the race for the Scudetto. Inter then began a stunning period with eight straight victories, among them a revenge for the derbyloss with a 5-2 victory, which meant that Inter could reconnect with the top of the table. In the spring, it became increasingly apparent that the Scudetto would end up in Milan, the only question was which team. The deciding moment of the season came in round 31 when AC Milan were defeated at home by Roma while Inter won the Derby d’Italia in Turin 2-0. Inter now had the upper hand and secured the Scudetto mathematically in the final round. Sandro Mazzola shared the title as Capocannoniere with Fiorentina’s Alberto Orlando.

In The European Cup Inter were the reigning champions and started out strong by defeating Dynamo Bucharest 6-0 at home and 1-0 away in the first round. The team did not have any major problems in the quarterfinals neither as Glasgow Rangers were eliminated by a total of 3-2 on aggregate. The shock came in the semi-final against Liverpool in which Inter lost 1-3 and ended up in an awkward position for the home meeting the following week. At home at the San Siro, however, Inter got off to a good start and after 10 minutes Inter were in the lead by 2-0. A goal for Liverpool could have spoiled Inter’s dreams of qualifying for the final but Facchetti scored to make it 3-0 in the 62nd minute and secured Inter’s place in the final that was to be played at home. Opponents in the final were Benfica, who at the time was one of Europe’s hottest teams with superstar Eusébio as one of the stars. Benfica had a impressed greatly during the tournament and had eliminated the great Real Madrid after winning by 5-1 at home. San Siro was packed to it’s bursting point, and 89,000 spectators saw Inter win their second straight title after becoming the first team in the tournament that managed a clean sheet against Benfica in a match that ended 1-0. Scorer: Jair in the 42nd minute of the game.

The 1965/66 season

Thanks to the victory in the European Cup the previous season Inter began even this season by playing the final of the Copa Intercontinentale and for the second year in a row Argentinian Independiente were the opponents. This time, it did not take three games to win the title as Inter won 3-0 at home and drew 0-0 away. Inter’s second straight victory in the tournament was a fact and Helenio Herrera and Inter’s dominance of the world football was at this time total.

Even in Serie A the team’s glory days continued but there was no shortage of contenders. During the first half of the season Napoli was the big surprise with new acquisitions Sivori and Altafini, two young talents that had been rejected by Juventus and AC Milan, who now were great performers. Even a revitalized Bologna was involved in the battle at the top but none of the two teams could beat the Inter team that secured the Scudetto in the second to last round. The Scudetto meant that Inter became the second team in Italy to be allowed to place the gold star above the crest as it was the team’s tenth title. Additionally, full-back Giacinto Facchetti made history when he scored ten goals and set a record for number of goals scored by a defender.

After two straight victories in the European Cup Inter was one of the favorites in this season’s edition of the tournament. It was therefore surprising that the team had such great struggles to move on from the first round where Inter met Dynamo Bucharest. After losing on the road 1-2, there was huge pressure on the team to turn the result at home. After a goalless first half, Mazzola finally managed to score early in the second half on a penalty. In the 87th minute Facchetti made it 2-0 and ensured that Inter qualified for the quarter-finals. There, the team had no problem eliminating Hungarian Ferencvaros and moved on with an aggregate result of 5-1 and were set to face Real Madrid in the semifinals. The future champions proved too difficult and eliminated Inter with 2-1 on aggregate.

The 1966/67 season

This was the season after the World Cup in which the Italian national team been eliminated already in the group stage after a disastrous loss to North Korea. Italy was in a state of shock and decided that something had to be done. Measures were made to limit the number of foreign players in the squads in Serie A. This meant that the teams basically remained the same as the previous season, without any spectacular signings. This did not affect Inter who started out the season with seven straight victories and seemed to be headed towards another Scudetto. On January 22, when the first half of the season had been completed Inter could call themselves Campioni d’Inverno (winter champions), a title that means nothing if you do not follow it up with a good spring season. Inter did not do that and allowed Juventus to catch up and perhaps Herrera’s players started to show some fatigue after years of dominance. Despite that, Inter were going into the final round as the leaders of the Serie A table, with one point more than Juventus, and were facing Mantova which was a team in the middle of the table. At the same time Juventus were facing a Lazio team which was involved in the relegation battle and thus playing for survival. After a rare mistake by goalkeeper Sarti Mantova won the game 1-0, a game that was controversial as Inter were denied to penalties. Meanwhile Juventus won their match and sent Lazio to Serie B and won the Scudetto ahead of Inter.

The end of May and the beginning of june 1967 was a tough period for Inter. The week before they lost the Scudetto to archrivals Juventus they lost in the final of the European Cup against Celtic. Inter had performed well in the tournament, eliminating the reigning champions Real Madrid in the quarter-finals and were for some time in the lead of the final after Mazzola had scored on a penalty. In the middle of the second half, however, Celtic equalized and later made it 2-1 in the game, which was played in Lisbon, when it was only five minutes left. The result did not really tell the truth about the game as Celtic totally outplayed Inter and for long periods of the game the ball was only on Inters half of the pitch. It was a tired and worn Interteam that seemed to empty it’s last remaining strengths in this game. Luis Suárez missed the final because of an injury and Jair had left the club.

The 1967/68 season

La Grande Inter now belonged to the past. The disappointing end of the previous season marked the end of an era and the 1967/68 season was to become another disappointment. Inter ended up in fifth place, an unimpressivel 13 points behind AC Milan. Helenio Herrera’s time at Inter was over for this time. During eight years with the club, he had won the Scudetto three times, the European Cup twice and the Copa Intercontinentale twice.

Coaching jobs after La Grande Inter and the return

When Herrera left Inter, he chose to go to Roma who had offered him an extremely lucrative contract. In Roma Herrera remained for five years but never managed to win a Scudetto. At best he reached sixth place. He did however win the Coppa Italia and the Anglo-Italian Cup with Roma. Had he been more lucky, he could have won the Cup Winners’ Cup but lost a coin toss after the final had ended in a draw. After another disappointing season Herrera got fired in 1973 and returned to Inter. His second spell at Inter did not turn out as he or anyone else at Inter had hoped because Herrera suffered a heart attack and had to turn over the coaching duties to Enea Masiero who led the team to a fourth place in Serie A.

A legendary coaching career ends

After his heart attack in 1974 Herrera retired from football and did not return until March 1979 when Serie B club Rimini Calcio called upon his services and gave him the role of consultant. After just two months with the club, he returned to FC Barcelona who requested his help and that was where he would finish his great coaching career by helping the team qualify for the UEFA Cup in 1980 and winning the Spanish Cup in 1981.

After his retirement from coaching Herrera went on to become a much appreciated commentator.

Helenio Herrera spent his final days in Venice, where he had settled, and on November 9 1997 his heart stopped and one of the most legendary coaches in football passed away.

Helenio Herrera’s influence on football and the coach’s role

Helenio Herrera was groundbreaking in many ways. Above all, he changed the coach’s role and importance. In an interview many years later, La Grande Inter midfielder Luis Suárez said this about his coach: “His emphasis on physical fitness and psychology had never been seen before. Before him the coach was unimportant.”Previously, the coach’s role was basically just to train the team, select a starting eleven and decide what formation to use. The coach was therefore rarely given any praise or fame, and certainly never got the respect of the players. Helenio Herrera was the first star coach and before Herrera there were more focus on team’s star players than the coach. A team like Madrid, for example, was described as Di Stefano’s Real Madrid. Inter came to be described as Herrera’s Inter.

Before Herrera most coaches had one tactical idea and intended to use it without taking into account what kind of players he had. Herrera thought differently: “The first task is to get to know the players very well, look at them as individuals during training and matches, to see what their best natural abilities are. Then, and only then can we begin to make a plan for the general tactics.”

Of today’s coaches it is mainly José Mourinho who is described as a great motivator, but Herrera was a pioneer even in this field and he made use of techniques such as getting the players to repeat slogans during training sessions. One example was: “Whoever does not give everything, gives nothing.” Herrera also put up posters on the training ground and dressing rooms with texts that would motivate the players. Nowadays it may seem trivial, but in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it was a novelty. “Class + preparation + intelligence + athleticism = Titles” was one of the mottos that helped to make Inter a winning team. Herrera was also one of the first to be interested in how the players conducted themselves in their private lives. Smoking and drinking alcohol was forbidden and the players also received individual diets to ensure that they kept themselves in good shape. It was not uncommon that Herrera sent out representatives from the club to ensure that the players slept at night to make sure they were rested for matches and training sessions. For those players who did not follow these directives, there was no other option than to change clubs. Herrera could be perceived as a strict, but he knew what it would take to be winners. Herrera was also the first coach who started to assemble players before the games for ritiro, something that today’s coaches frequently use and it means that players are taken to remote hotels to prepare them for matches and create unity. Herrera wanted to create a winning mentality in the team and the fact that he once suspended a player who in an interview had said that “Inter came to Rome to play,” instead of saying that Inter came there to win, says a lot.

Even tactically, Herrera was ahead of its time. He was not however, as many believe, the one who invented what would later be called Catenaccio. He was not even the one who brought it to Italy, but he was undoubtedly the one who developed it and made the tactical method known considering his achievements. Catenaccio was a development of the Austrian Karl Rappan’s Verrou, a formation he used during the 1930’s and 1940’s when he coached Servette and the Swiss national team. The most common formation at the time was known as the WM formation, which could be described as 3-2-2-3. It was a much more proactive tactic than Rappan’s, but since it placed such high demands on the players’ individual skills it was more difficult to win using it if the team did not have the players required. The most important position in Karl Rappan’s tactic was the libero. The libero acted behind the back line and intercepted the balls that made it through the line of defense. The coach that brought what came to be known as Catenaccio to Italy was the Nereo Rocco who managed to bring Triestina to second place in Serie A in 1947 using the formation.

Helenio Herrera Catenaccio differed from Rappan’s and Rocco’s in several ways. Rappan’s version used a zonal marking mixed with man-to-man marking, while Herrera consistently used the man-to-man defense. Each defender focused on a single striker from the opposing team while the libero acted behind them, and made sure no balls went any further. There was, in other words, always an extra player in defense. The player Herrera used as in the role of libero at Inter was Armando Picchi. Herrera’s Catenaccio was also significantly tighter than Rocco’s version and opened up for more long balls and counter-attacks. In Herrera’s Catenaccio the full-back was unusually offensive, largely because he had superstar and future legend Giacinto Facchetti on the position.

Herrera even showed an interest when it comes to what happened in the stands. He pointed out the impact the twelfth player on the team’s performances and urged supporters to organize and make their support for the team loud and clear. Indirectly, one can say that he contributed to the creation of Ultras groups in Italy.

La Grande Inter’s success disputed in recent times

Inter was a a world power in football during the 1960’s. The team’s success has, however, been questioned. In 2003 British tabloid The Times claimed that Inter’s president at the time, Angelo Moratti was in contact with the Hungarian referee Gyorgy Vadas ahead of the European Cup game between Inter and Malaga in 1965. According to the same source the Inter management had made similar attempts in the previous two seasons. According to the author of the article, Brian Glanville, La Grande Inter’s success was “the fruit of bribery and corruption in which Angelo Moratti played a crucial part in a process implemented by two men also now dead: Deszo Szolti, the Hungarian fixer, and the serpentine Italo Allodi (Inter’s sporting director).” It is important to note that these allegations never have been confirmed from any other source and that Inter have not been convicted of anything that happened during this period.

The following year another kind of accusations emerged. In his book Il Terzo Incomodo, published in 2004, the former player Ferruccio Mazzola made revelations about doping in Italian football. Mazzola also accused Inter, the team with which he played one game, for having provided the players with illegal performance-enhancing drugs during the 1960’s and the 1970’s. Among those named were Helenio Herrera and Giacinto Facchetti. Ferruccio, who is the brother of Inter legend Sandro, was convinced that the former Inter players Armando Picchi, Carlo Tagnin, Mauro Bicicli and Ferdinando Miniussi all died prematurely because of the use of illegal drugs. This information was not received well by Inter and its players. Sandro Mazzola ended his relation with his brother. Giacinto Facchetti who was president of  Inter at time, along with Massimo Moratti, sued Ferruccio for libel but lost the case when the judge did not consider the information in Ferruccios book could be labeled as libel. This has, by some, incorrectly been interpreted as if the allegations in Ferruccio book were correct, but that is not the case. The trial was not about whether Inter were guilty of doping in the 1960’s or not, but about Ferruccio being guilty of libel.

None of these allegations have been tested legally and therefore Inter has not been convicted of any of these accusations. The reasons that it has not been tested in court are among others the lack of evidence and the fact that these people waited almost 40 years to make their accusations. Moreover, there seems to be a trend that accusations are directed at people just after they have died. Is it a coincidence or is it maybe more convenient to accuse someone who can not defend themselves? Some might wonder why I’m even writing about this in an article that is supposed to celebrate La Grande Inter. I write it because I, unlike some supporters of certain other teams, do not intend to hide or censor anything. Inter became a world power in football in the 1960’s and the story of La Grande Inter is something we should be proud of and carry with us when we watch the team continue to write history.