Giacinto Facchetti is a legend in every essence of the word. Having played his entire senior career with Inter makes him a true anomaly in today’s game. Even for his time, players would transfer to another club occasionally. But for Facchetti, there was only Inter. In the first of our “Legends Series” at SempreInter, we take a look back on the career of Giacinto Facchetti and discuss what made this player so special and why he will be eternally remembered as one of the greatest players ever to call himself “Nerazzurri.”
When discussing a club with such a long and rich history as that of Inter it is sometimes easy to forget some of the names from decades ago. These are oftentimes the players who helped shape the club into what it is today. To say that Inter increased it’s fan base during the treble season of 2010 is an understatement. It was during the 1960s though, when Internazionale truly became a football superpower.
Perhaps unknown to many newer supporters of the club, there was a period in the history of the Nerazzurri that could indeed be considered a more successful era than the years of 2005-2010. From 1960-1968 the club was appropriately referred to as “Grande Inter,” and for good reason.
Under the management of the iconic Helenio Herrera Inter became a global football juggernaut, winning three Scudetti, two European Cups, and two Intercontinental Cups. Herrera deployed a system referred to as the catenaccio (Italian for “door bolt”). This system featured a highly effective and well organised back line and was the key component for Inter’s dominance over the course of the decade.
A key figure for Herrera’s world-class defence was none other than left-back Giacinto Facchetti. Facchetti spent his youth career playing as a forward for his hometown club Trevigliese, but soon caught the eye of Herrera. Facchetti possessed great pace, endurance and technique. In addition to his offensive attributes he was also a skilled tackler.
Upon bringing Facchetti to Inter during the 1960-61 season, Herrera immediately switched the player to the new role of left-back, due to his physique and diverse skill set. He was thought to be a perfect fit for Herrera’s tactical system at Inter, the aforementioned catenaccio. Herrera made slight modifications to the traditional system, creating greater flexibility for counterattacks.
As an overlapping full-back in Herrera’s system, Facchetti quickly excelled at Inter. He made his club and Serie A debut on May 21st, 1961, a 2-0 away win against AS Roma. There were not many overlapping full-backs at that time on the continent which made Facchetti’s role both unique and innovative.
By the 1962-63 season Facchetti’s appearances for Inter had climbed to over 30 in league play. He had cemented himself as an integral part of what was soon to be one of the most dominant football clubs on the planet for the remainder of the decade. With his keen ability to read the game, knack for hard-nosed defence, and instincts in attack, Facchetti was on the verge of not only helping lift Inter to continental dominance, but also becoming a household name in the process.
Due to Facchetti’s talents he was assigned to carry out a role on the pitch that was decades ahead of it’s time. Helenio Herrera’s foresight in addition to the partnership he constructed between Facchetti and fellow full-back Tarcisio Burgnich was about to pay massive dividends as Inter embarked on the 1962-63 Serie A campaign.
That season would see Inter win their first Scudetto in nearly a decade (1953-54) as they finished ahead of rivals Juventus and Milan in the table, conceding a mere 20 goals over the course of 34 games. Herrera had built Inter into a football freight train in only three years with Giacinco Facchetti as one of his conductors.
By 1963 Herrera’s Inter was a well-oiled machine. Facchetti’s contributions played a huge role in that success. At this point he had developed into a master distributor of the ball with the ability to cut inside from the wing to the centre of the pitch, making him a scoring threat as a full-back. This style of play from that position was almost unheard of on the continent at that time.
The 1963-64 season introduced the first and only championship tie-breaker match in Serie A history as Inter and Bologna finished level on points after 34 matches. Inter lost the tie-breaker 0-2 and were unable to repeat as champions of Italy. Honestly though, who needs a domestic title when you can rule Europe?
Inter played a nearly perfect 1963-64 European Cup campaign winning eight out of their nine matches, drawing once, with no defeats. This included a 3-1 thrashing of Real Madrid in the final. For the first time in their history, Inter were “Campione D’Europa.”
1964-65 would become an era-defining season for Herrera’s “Grande Inter.” Not only would the Nerazzurri return to domestic dominance, winning the league by three points over cross-city rivals Milan, they would achieve something that only eight clubs in history can claim: winning consecutive European Cups.
The road to the final was not as easy as the prior season. Inter had to come back from a 1-3 deficit after the first leg of their semi-final fixture against Liverpool. Herrera’s lads did just that, with none other than Giacinco Facchetti scoring the final goal of the second leg, placing Inter ahead on aggregate 4-3. From there the Nerazzurri would advance to the final where they defeated Benfica 1-0.
Inter would repeat as kings of Serie A during the 1965-66 campaign winning comfortably over runners-up Bologna and third-place Napoli. For Giacinto Facchetti this season was special on an individual level. Facchetti set the Serie A record for most goals by a defender during this season, a record that stood for over three decades before being broken in 2000-01 by Marco Materazzi, one year before he too was introduced as an Inter player.
Facchetti’s efforts in 1965 were so noteworthy that they almost propelled him to become the first defender in history to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or award. He finished second in the voting behind Benfica’s Eusébio and Inter teammate Luis Suárez. That season would cap off an amazing run for both player and club under the leadership of Helenio Herrera. Two years later Herrera would leave Inter to manage AS Roma.
The “Grande Inter” era would officially come to an end with Herrera’s departure. Facchetti would later captain Inter, leading the side to another Scudetto during the 1970-71 season, the fourth of his illustrious career. There was however, one piece of silverware that had alluded him during the course of his Inter tenure: the Coppa Italia. It would take 18 years, but Facchetti and Inter would win the domestic cup in his final season as a player in 1978.
In addition to winning four Serie A championships, two European Cups, and the Coppa Italia, Giacinco Facchetti would also wear the captain’s armband in 70 of the 94 matches he played for the Italian National Team. The highlight of which came in 1968 as the Azzurri won the their first and only European Championship to date on domestic soil.
Facchetti may have retired as a player, but he never retired from Inter. After hanging up his boots he held numerous positions for the Nerazzurri in the front office including technical director, worldwide ambassador and board member. Facchetti was elected chairman of Inter in January, 2004, replacing Massimo Moratti.
Sadly, on September 4th, 2006, Giacinto Facchetti was taken from us far too early at the young age of 64 after losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. His shirt number “3” was retired by Inter that same year. He would later be inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame (2015), a well-deserved honor for perhaps the greatest full-back to ever play the beautiful game.
Giacinto Facchetti will be remembered for many things. Helping restore glory to Inter. Taking the Nerazzurri to previously unreached heights. Revolutionizing the full-back position. Being the highest-scoring defender in Serie A history with 59 career goals. Most of all though, Facchetti will be remembered as a leader. A captain. An individual who led by example and would do whatever necessary for the betterment of the team.
There is no more fitting player or personality to kick off our SempreInter legends series than Giacinto Facchetti, a true icon of Italian football. As Interisti there is but one thing left to be said to this Inter hero: “Grazie Giacinto Facchetti. La famiglia Inter ti manca.”
This is the first part of a series called #InterLegends where Critty Smith highlights and tells the story of a former Inter player worthy of being called an Inter Legend.