Behind every great team there is a guiding voice. For Helenio Herrera’s “Grande Inter” that voice was Armando Picchi. Perhaps the most intelligent player to ever wear the colors of the Nerazzurri, he carried out Herrera’s vision to perfection during arguably the most successful period in the history of the illustrious club.

Armando Picchi came to Inter in 1960. He caught the eye of the club’s newly-appointed manager Helenio Herrera while playing at SPAL the previous season. At that time, Inter were suffering through a six-year title drought. Club leadership was looking at Herrera to get them back to winning ways.

Upon his arrival, Picchi initially lined up as a right-back. This decision was by no means unsuccessful. Quite the contrary in fact, as Picchi helped Inter secure third place in Serie A during the 1960-61 season. The 1961-62 domestic campaign saw Inter improve upon this result by finishing as runners-up.

Though the team appeared to be making progress, something was missing. Inter’s owner Angelo Morrati was growing impatient as Inter was nearing the decade mark since last conquering the league. Morrati decided to give Herrera one more season. This proved to be one of the best decisions in the lengthy history of the club.

Prior to the 1962-63 season, Herrera switched the defense to a back four. Additionally, the manager opted to place a libero (sweeper) between the goalkeeper and the back line, offering an added layer of security. The player selected for this role was none other than Armando Picchi.

Standing a mere 5 foot 7 inches tall, Picchi was never an imposing player, though, what he lacked in physicality he more than made up for with his instincts, intelligence, and technical mastery. Picchi was to become an extension of Helenio Herrera on the pitch.

The changes made to Inter’s style of play gave birth to the term “catenaccio” and revolutionized Italian football for years to come. It simultaneously made Armando Picchi one of the most valuable footballers on the planet due to his perfect fit within Herrera’s system.

The third season of a manager’s tenure with a club can often be when things finally come together. It can take time before they have their desired tactical system in place, as well as the players and personnel to maximize it’s success. For Helenio Herrera, that season was 1962-63.

Decades before fellow Inter legend Lothar Matthäus became the world’s best libero, Armando Picchi was defining the role. He had an uncanny ability to read the game and thwart off the opposition’s attack, but was likewise skilled in moving the ball forward. This made him an indispensable player within Herrera’s system.

Unlike traditional defenders, Picchi was not interested in simply smashing the ball up the pitch with reckless abandon. Instead, he would often start the attack from the back with a precision pass or dribble the ball toward the midfield before handing it off to a teammate.

When you combine Picchi’s technical abilities with his incredible football IQ, its easy to comprehend how Inter became a record-setting team for the remainder of the decade. The Picchi-led Inter defense conceded a meager 20 goals over 34 matches and was a major catalyst in the club winning the 1962-63 Serie A title, their first since 1954.

Herrera’s vision and reassessment of things after his first two seasons with the club, in addition to the brilliant tactical placement of Armando Picchi behind the back four, helped catapult Inter to the top of Italian football. And this was only the beginning.

Bruno Bolchi, who had been Inter’s captain, left the club following the 1962-63 season. A complete player displays one attribute above all others: leadership. Armando Picchi, more than perhaps any other at the club, was the model player. He inspired his teammates, made his voice heard on the pitch, and played the game to perfection. As a result, he was awarded the Inter captaincy prior to the 1963-64 season.

Inter’s inaugural campaign with Picchi as their captain was a monumental success. For the first time in the club’s history, Inter won the European Cup, defeating tournament mainstays Real Madrid 3-1 in the final.

It cannot go without mentioning, that Inter conceded a mere five goals over their nine matches in the 1963-64 European Cup against the reigning champions from England, Germany, Spain, France, and Yugoslavia. The Nerazzurri would then defeat Argentina’s Independiente over two legs (2-1 on aggregate) in the Intercontinental Cup to be declared the best club in the world.

The namesake of “Grande Inter” would be earned during the 1964-65 campaign. Picchi’s Inter would not only lift the Scudetto for the second time in three seasons, they would also successfully defend their European crown, defeating a determined Benfica in the final, 1-0, after a gritty performance.

Armando Picchi was spectacular against the Portuguese giants. As Inter finally broke through for the opening score of the match shortly before half-time, Picchi was determined to keep the clean sheet in tact. He did just that, rarely leaving his post deep within Inter’s defensive third of the pitch. Inter suffocated Benfica en route to a continental double.

By 1965 Inter were the polished, finished product of Helenio Herrera’s vision in 1962. What started out as an experiment, had become a renaissance. Armando Picchi perfected the blueprint for what a libero is.

In September 1965, the Nerazzurri would again play in the Intercontinental Cup, once more defeating Independiente over two legs (3-0 on aggregate) to retain the world crown of club football.

Inter were dominate in domestic play again during the 1965-66 campaign, winning the league with a massive positive goal differential of 42 (70/28). This was the highest-scoring team during the “Grande Inter” era. A third Scudetto in four years was the reward for their efforts.

“Il Grande Capitano” as Picchi was affectionately called, had helped Inter become a household name in the sport. He and his teammates, within Herrera’s catenaccio system, were indeed responsible for a tactical revolution in Italy. This goes far beyond simply winning a few trophies. Picchi helped to define an era.

Armando Picchi’s final season at Inter came in 1966-67. The Nerazzurri would finish both the Serie A as well as the European Cup as runners-up. Only a year later, Herrera would likewise depart the club, unequivocally symbolizing the end of Inter’s dominance for that group of players.

The greatness of Armando Picchi at Inter can be measured by the fact that it would be over two decades after his departure before the club would experience anything remotely close to the success of the “Grande Inter” generation.

Overall, Picchi won three Scudetti, two European Cups, and two Intercontinental Cups at Inter, all in a span of four years. He is arguably one of the most intelligent players to ever play the beautiful game. He had the ear of his teammates, as well as their undying respect, perhaps even moreso than the manager.

Armando Picchi became the measuring stick by which all future Inter captains would, and should be measured. He perfected the role of libero and helped propel his Nerazzurri into iconic status. Above all else though, he will be eternally remembered as a legend for the club he gave so much to.

Other legends in this series:

Jürgen Klinsmann: The Leader Of Inter’s German Strikeforce

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