When former Inter captain Javier Zanetti refers to someone as “the hardest player I have ever played with,” it should be taken to heart. Zanetti, a legend in his own right, does not make statements like that unless they are earned. The player he is referring to in that quote is none other than Walter Samuel, one of the best center-backs to ever grace the Serie A with his presence. Samuel anchored the Nerazzurri back line for a solid decade, winning countless trophies in the process. Lets take a look back on the Inter career of one of the greatest defenders of his generation, Walter Samuel.
Walter Samuel played nine seasons for Inter Milan. During that time he was a part of one of the greatest success stories in football history. In fact, in his debut with the squad in August 2005, he helped Inter defeat bitter rivals Juventus to win the Supercoppa Italiana. Winning a trophy on your first day of work with your new club? Not a bad way to start.
His debut season with the Nerazzurri was an incredibly successful one. He featured in 42 matches across all competitions as Inter would win the league for the first time since 1989, ending a 16 year domestic title drought. The club would also defeat Roma 4-2 in the Coppa Italia final, earning them a surprise domestic treble to conclude the 2005-06 season.
With Juventus justly relegated to Serie B following the calciopoli scandal, Inter would quickly ascend to the throne of Italian football, a distinction they would hold onto for the next half decade. One of the main catalysts for Inter’s sustained success during this time was their brick wall defensive line. Led by captain Javier Zanetti, it also featured the likes of Maicon Sisenando, Marco Materazzi, Ivan Cordoba, Maxwell, and of course, Walter Samuel.
Often overshadowed by the accomplishments of the 2009-10 squad, Inter’s 2006-07 season will be remembered as one of the greatest in the long. prestigious history of the Serie A. Inter earned a then-record 97 points during that campaign, losing a mere one match out of 38. The result of this was the club winning it’s second consecutive Scudetto by a resounding 22 points over runners-up Roma.
Inter scored a league-leading 80 goals during the 2006-07 Serie A campaign, conceding only 34 at the opposite end of the pitch. Under Roberto Mancini, and later Jose Mourinho, Inter possessed great squad depth, especially as it pertained to their back line. This allowed for squad rotation without a drop-off in form. Inter would nearly complete another domestic treble after winning the league and Supercoppa Italiana, but falling short in the Coppa Italia final.
The addition of Walter Samuel to Inter’s back four was like adding the final jewel to a crown. It was a unit that was complete, in every sense of the word. It was Samuel’s exceptional array of talents that set him apart from the pack, though. He was a built like a concrete wall, yet, displayed immense quickness. This allowed him to play aggressively without sacrificing anything. His positional awareness and ability to read the game made him one of the most complete center-backs on the planet.
In addition to his defensive qualities which earned him the nickname “Il Muro” (The Wall), Walter Samuel also excelled in the air and thus, was on every opposing side’s radar during set pieces. Truth be told, the only thing that could really stop Samuel were the injuries he sustained during his tenure with Inter. The first major injury of his Inter career came in December 2007, during the Derby della Madonnina. This would keep him out for nearly a year.
A major change occurred at Inter during Samuel’s rehabilitation from this injury. Roberto Mancini left the club and Jose Mourinho was brought in to manage the club. Samuel made his return to the pitch on November 9th, 2008. Typically, a player is brought back slowly after such an intense injury, but then again, Walter Samuel is no ordinary player. He would start the match as Inter defeated Udinese 1-0 at the San Siro. Mourinho had total faith in Walter Samuel’s abilities and did not shy away from it.
Though Samuel would make a nice recovery in 2009 and help Inter to a fourth consecutive Scudetto, it would be the 2009-10 season where he would truly leave his mark on the club. Fellow center-back Lucio joined Inter from Bayern Munich in the summer of 2009. Mourinho had specific plans for him after his arrival. The Portuguese manager would position Walter Samuel next to the newly-acquired Lucio creating an air-tight seal in Inter’s back line. This center-back pairing is still one of the best to ever feature in the Italian top flight.
The Walter Samuel/Lucio dynamic duo combined to feature 59 times in the league during the 2009-10 campaign. They contributed greatly to a defense that conceded a league-best 34 goals en route to a fifth Scudetto in as many years. Their greatest impact, however, was undeniably felt during the Champions League. Samuel delivered outstanding performances for his team against Barcelona in the semi-finals. He would do the same in the final against Bayern Munich a few weeks later, stifling and frustrating Luis Van Gaal’s attack on multiple occasions.
So many times in football it is the players who score the goals that get the glory rather than those who prevent them. The 2010 Champions League final was won because of Inter’s defensive superiority. Diego Milito was indeed brilliant, scoring two goals to push the Nerazzurri past Bayern. Though, if you look at the statistics from that match, one could easily argue that Bayern dominated for much of the 90 minutes. It was Inter’s back four, and to a greater extent Walter Samuel, which held the dangerous Bavarian attack without a goal.
Inter were the kings of Europe for the first time in 45 years. Mourinho’s tactics had worked to perfection. The Nerazzurri’s opportunistic attack combined with their nearly impenetrable defense delivered to the club and it’s supporters a Champions League title, capping off one of the greatest five-year runs in the history of the sport.
Walter Samuel would continue to feature for Inter through the 2013-14 season. After Mourinho’s departure from the club following the Champions League triumph, Inter struggled to maintain it’s momentum of the previous five years. Though many of the names remained the same, father time started to rear it’s ugly head. Age and injury began to take their toll on the Nerazzurri. Inter were also unable to adequately replace Jose Mourinho.
During his final season at the San Siro, Walter Samuel continued to fight for the black and blue colors he had so proudly worn for almost a decade. On May 10th, 2014, Samuel played his last match for Inter, a 4-1 win at home over Lazio. This win qualified Inter for Europe on the final league match day as Samuel said farewell to the interisti in attendance. In all, Walter Samuel appeared in 236 matches for Inter during his nine seasons at the club, winning 13 trophies in the process.
Inter fielded one of the best back lines in Europe for the better part of a decade, thanks in large part to the efforts of Walter Samuel. His intelligence, tenacity, and passion was rarely matched on the pitch among his peers. He was instrumental to the club’s success during a time that many pundits consider the greatest period in Inter’s long, illustrious history. For this he will always be remembered and welcomed back as a true Inter legend.
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