The story of Jürgen Klinsmann at Inter is one that ended far too soon. Of the three German World Champions that donned the colors of the Nerazzurri during the early 1990s, Klinsmann was by far the most dangerous scoring threat. He endeared himself to the supporters of Inter because he learned to speak Italian and fully immersed himself into the club. Let’s relive the amazing three years Klinsmann spent at the San Siro in this latest installment of the Inter legends series! 

Jürgen Klinsmann joined FC Internazionale prior to the 1989-90 season. He had already been named German Footballer of the Year in 1988 while playing for VfB Stuttgart. After helping Stuttgart reach the UEFA Cup final in 1989, narrowly losing to Diego Maradona’s Napoli, Klinsmann decided it was time to move on to bigger and better things.

For a top-level German footballer this typically translates into a move to Bayern Munich. At the time, however, Serie A was the undisputed best league on the planet, attracting the best talent from around the globe. The Nerazzurri had already attracted two of Klinsmann’s compatriots, Lothar Matthäus and Andrea Brehme. These two would obviously play a factor in his decision.

At the time, Klinsmann, Matthäus, and Brehme were teammates on the German national team. These three played pivotal roles in Germany winning the 1990 World Cup. Before that magnificent triumph, they joined forces at Inter to form one of the finest trio of players for any club in the history of the sport. Each player was the leader of his respective area on the pitch. Brehme manned the back-line, Matthäus the midfield, and Klinsmann spearheaded the Inter attack.

Only months removed from winning the Scudetto, Klinsmann would be the feather in the cap for Giovanni Trapattoni’s Inter. Trapattoni had a vision during the early years of his tenure with the club. Although known for his defensive-minded tactics, Trapattoni, to the surprise of everyone, changed his philosophy upon coming to Inter. The acquisition of Klinsmann had a lot to do with that.

Despite already having a formidable striker in Ramon Diaz, Trapattoni had other ideas in regards to who would lead his attack. Klinsmann was brought into the club in favor of Diaz, despite solid production from the Argentinian (12 league goals) during Inter’s Scudetto-winning 1988-89 season. Diaz had to depart Inter due to the rule at the time which prevented Serie A clubs from having more than three foreign-born players on the roster.

Klinsmann didn’t disappoint, as he immediately ascended to the top of Inter’s scoring list. The German bagged 13 goals in the league and 15 across all competitions. Unfortunately, the Nerazzurri were unable to duplicate their previous season’s form, finishing third in the final league table. Instead, Napoli, behind the incredible efforts of Diego Maradona, lifted the Scudetto in 1990.

The 1990-91 season would be the final for Giovanni Trapattoni as Inter’s manager. It would also be the final season of attacking-minded, innovative, exciting football at the San Siro for the foreseeable future. The Klinsmann-Matthäus-Brehme trio would not disappoint in Trapattoni’s Inter swan song.

Unforeseen by the masses, Sampdoria would clinch their first, and to-date only league title in May, 1991. Internationally, however, Inter had climbed the grueling UEFA Cup mountain and would have the opportunity to win their first European trophy since the the “Grande Inter” days of the 1960s after advancing to the final of the competition.

Facing familiar opponents in league rivals Roma, Inter won the first leg 2-0 at the San Siro behind goals from Lothar Matthäus and Nicola Berti. Roma scored their first and only goal of the fixture in the 81st minute of the second leg. Inter held onto their 2-1 aggregate lead. On May 22, 1991, at the Stadio Olimpico, the Nerazzurri hoisted the UEFA Cup trophy, thus ending a 26 year European title drought.

Though Klinsmann was held scoreless in both Roma matches, he did score a crucial goal in the second leg of the semi-final fixture against Sporting Lisbon, giving Inter a 2-0 aggregate lead with 55 minutes to play. Klinsmann tallied 14 league goals and 17 across all competitions during the 1990-91 campaign. He was Inter’s second-leading goal scorer behind countryman Lothar Matthäus.

The good times at Inter would come to a sudden end with the departure of Trapattoni in 1991. New manager Corrado Orrico opted for a more defensive-minded brand of football. Needless to say, this backfired tremendously. To put into perspective how poorly Inter performed under Orrico you need look no further than the total amount of goals scored by the team during the 1991-92 season (28).

Klinsmann led the squad with seven goals, accounting for 25 percent of the team’s goal output during the 1991-92 Serie A campaign. Orrico’s Inter never tallied more than two goals in any match. Inter, as defending champions, were embarrassingly eliminated in the first round of the UEFA Cup by Boavista on October 2nd, 1991.

As a result of massively under-performing, Orrico was replaced by club legend Luis Suarez midway through the season. The damage was done though, and Inter were unable to climb out of the deep hole they had dug for themselves. This would be the final season at the San Siro for the magnificent German trio that had accomplished so much in so little time. It was not the ending they had imagined, however.

There is no way to re-write history, though, its fairly safe to say, that had Trapattoni remained with the club, there would have been more trophies lifted, many more goals scored, and the era of German-fueled dominance at Inter would have lasted for at least a few more years. Klinsmann’s time with the Nerazzurri, despite leading the team in goals in two of his three seasons with the club, feels unfinished.

Klinsmann gave his all for Inter each time he stepped onto the pitch, that is undeniable. He bled black and blue for three years and supporters of the club who remember his time at the San Siro have never questioned it. Klinsmann was part of an Inter squad that finally resembled what the club embodied a quarter of a century prior to his arrival. Inter became relevant in world football again and were a constant force to be reckoned with on the domestic front.

For his contributions both on and off the pitch, for what he meant to the club, as well as what the club meant to him, and for the millions of eyes he helped draw to the San Siro in the early 1990s, Klinsmann will always be remembered as a true Inter legend.

Other legends in this series:

Dejan Stankovic: The Dragon Guarding Inter’s Midfield

Walter Zenga: The Nerazzurri Spiderman

Giacinto Facchetti – A Giant Among Men

Lothar Matthäus – The Definition Of  A Complete Player

Andreas Brehme – The German Utility Man