Inter Milan's 20 Best Players of All Time

Sam LoprestiFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2012

Inter Milan's 20 Best Players of All Time

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    Inter Milan is truly one of the legendary clubs in world soccer.  The Italian giants have won Serie A 18 times, the Coppa Italia seven times, the UEFA Cup three times and the Champions League three times. Only two years ago they completed an unprecedented feat for an Italian side: a Treble of the Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League.

    Over the course of that illustrious history, many world-class players have pulled on the black and blue stripes.  Here are the top 20 men that have played for the blue side of Milan. 

Samuel Eto'o

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    2009-2011

    Samuel Eto'o's time with the nerazzurri was brief, but boy was he prolific.

    In the two seasons he spent at Inter after he arrived from Barcelona, he scored 53 times in 101 matches in all competitions—better than a goal every two games.  He helped lead Inter to the Treble in 2010, and then was instrumental in keeping Inter in the Champions League in the Round 16, anchoring a heroic comeback against Bayern Munich in the second leg away from home.  

    He scored in the first four minutes of the match and provided spectacular assists to Wesley Sneijder and Goran Pandev, allowing the Italians to advance on away goals.  His performance in the 2010-11 season was even more important given the mysterious disappearance that season of Diego Milito's goal-scoring form.

    The sale of Eto'o after the 2010-11 season was beyond ill-advised.  Who knows what Inter may have done had the Cameroonian striker stayed at the San Siro rather than left for Russia.  He's in the 20th spot in this countdown, but several more years could have put him much, much higher on the list.

Luigi Cevenini

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    1912-1915, 1919-1921, 1922-1927

    Cevenini is fifth on Inter's all-time scoring list, and when you look at the numbers it's easy to see why.  In 190 matches over three stints with Inter, Cevenini scored 158 goals.

    I'll let you look at that number for a minute.  And just to make that stat sink in a little, that's a .83 goals per game average.

    In his first two stints with the nerazzurri, Cevenini actually had more goals scored than games played.  His third, longer stint produced a less eye-popping number, but he still scored 42 times in 92 games.

    He won a single title with Inter in the pre-Serie A era, in 1919-20, and interestingly enough he played far better with Inter than with any other team.  He scored fairly freely with teams like Juventus, Messina and Milan, but his most outlandish numbers came while he was on the blue side of Milan.

Jair

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    1962-1967, 1968-1972

    Brazilian Jair da Costa was the last piece of the puzzle for Helenio Herrera's catenaccio attack.  He was the speedy winger that allowed the strategy's counterattacks to take hold.  Jair had the lone goal against Benfica in the 1967 European Cup final that gave the nerazzurri their second straight continental crown.

    The decline of La Grande Inter directly coincided with his brief departure from the team in 1967-68, when he spent a solitary season at Roma.  He returned to San Siro the next year, but only scored 14 times in four years in his second stint and later returned to his native Brazil to play with Santos.

    Internationally, he won the World Cup with Brazil in 1962, but was not an integral part of the selecao's roster and didn't see many caps.

Zlatan Ibrahimović

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    2006-2009

    After jumping ship at Juventus following the club's relegation due to the calciopoli scandal, Ibrahimović followed fellow Juve want-away Patrick Vieira to Inter, and became an integral part of Inter's next three championship teams.

    Zlatan started his career at Inter with a goal and an assist on his debut.  He finished the league season as Inter's top scorer, and the nerazzurri set a Serie A record with 97 points en route to securing the title.  The same year, Inter won 17 straight matches, a record for the Big Five European leagues (Italy, Spain, France, England and Germany) that still stands.

    Ibrahimović led the team to three scudetti in his time with the team, and ended up scoring 66 goals in 116 matches in all competitions, a rate of more than one goal every two matches.  He ended his final season with the nerazzurri by claiming the title of capocannoniere with 25 goals before moving on to Barcelona in a swap deal for Eto'o.

    For all of Ibra's excellence with the team, he was unable to get the team to the promised land in Europe—a failing that still nags at him to this day after stops at Barca, AC Milan and his current club Paris Saint-Germain.

Tarcisio Burgnich

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    1962-1974

    Burgnich (to the left in the photo) was the bulldog of La Grande Inter, a right-back/sweeper perfectly suited to Helenio Herrera's catenaccio style of play.  If Gennaro Gattuso ever modeled his aggressive game after someone, he would be it.

    Eighth on Inter's appearance list with 467, Burgnich bounced around several Italian teams before finding his home at the San Siro and spending his next 12 years there before spending four years at Napoli to end his career.  He then tried his hand at managing, taking the helm at 15 separate teams with little success.

    Internationally, Burgnich gained 66 caps for Italy and scored twice.  The second is notable: it brought Italy level with West Germany at 2-2 in extra time of the 1970 World Cup semifinal that Italy eventually won 4-3 in the match that has been dubbed the Game of the Century.

Mario Corso

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    1957-1973

    Mario Corso scored 94 goals in his 17 years with Inter.  A left winger by trade, he is sixth of all time in appearances with 502.

    During his time at the San Siro he was affectionately known as "God's Left Foot" for having one of the sweetest left-footed shots in the world.  He had a reputation of disappearing for long stretches before making one move—whether it was a free kick, chipped shot or slaloming dribble—that would win Inter the match.  Still, Helenio Herrera detested him for his poor work ethic, and would try to sell him at the end of nearly every season, only to be denied by president Angelo Moratti.

    After his time with Inter, Corso played two years at Genoa before retiring.  He briefly took the helm of his old team in 1986 and managed several other teams.

Christian Vieri

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    1999-2005

    Somewhat of a nomad, Christian Vieri was at Inter longer than any other club, and boy was he prolific when he was there.

    Vieri scored an astonishing 123 goals in 190 matches in all competitions for the nerazzurri, an astronomical strike rate of .65 goals per game over the six years he was with the club.

    Vieri was acquired by Massimo Moratti for the then-record fee of 32 million British pounds, and was capocannoniere for the 2002-03 season with 24 goals in 23 games, to go along with three goals in Inter's Champions League campaign that year.  Unfortunately, he suffered a serious injury against Valencia in the quarterfinals of the competition, and was unable to take part in the semifinal loss against Milan.  The injury definitely sapped his effectiveness from then onward—despite good goal totals, it was clear he just wasn't the same player.

    A pure center forward, Vieri holds the somewhat obscure record of scoring the most headed goals in the history of Serie A.  He is generally considered one of the best Italian strikers of his generation, although he is mostly overshadowed by the likes of Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero in casual conversation.  His best years, however, most definitely came in blue and black, and he will always be remembered at the San Siro.

Julio Cesar

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    2005-2012

    Julio Cesar guarded Inter's goal throughout its most successful period.  He was the nerazzurri's No. 1 keeper for all five of Inter's five straight Serie A titles from 2005-06 to 2009-10, as well as three Coppa Italia titles, the Club World Cup and the the crown jewel of Inter's 2010 Treble: the Champions League.

    That 2009-10 Champions League campaign is the shining moment in the Brazilian's career.  He allowed only three goals in the entirety of the knockout stage, including holding defending champ Barcelona to only two goals over the two legs of the semifinal.  At the height of his powers he was in the discussion with Iker Casillas and Gigi Buffon as one of the world's best goalkeepers, and was the starter for the Brazilian national team.

    Unfortunately, over his last years with the club injuries sapped his effectiveness, and he was sold to Queens Park Rangers this summer after Inter made a play for Samir Handanovič, who had established himself as one of the best keepers in Serie A with Udinese

    He would eventually appear in 300 matches for Inter, and take home a medal haul rivaled only by the likes of Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti.

Esteban Cambiasso

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    2004-present

    The bald Argentine isn't going to win any awards for beautiful soccer, but he has formed part of the soul of the Inter team that dominated Italian soccer in the first decade of the 20th century.

    Arguably one of the best midfielders to ever don the blue and black, Cambiasso has never been flashy, but his understanding of the game and his ability to hold down the defensive midfield and kickstart the attack from deep are difficult to match.  His presence on the team during its glory days of the late 'oughts has made him one of the team's most decorated players ever.

    Now 32, Cambiasso has appeared 371 times for Inter, and as time has gone on he has gone from being solely a bruiser to a force in the attack, scoring 45 goals for Inter and playing in a more advanced, creative role when he plays for his country.

    In 2008, Goal.com called him "one of the greatest players to have ever pulled an Inter shirt on and to grace the pitch in the Serie A."  Given the contributions Cambiasso has made to Inter over the last eight years, it's very hard to disagree.

Iván Córdoba

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    2000-2012

    The recently retired Columbian was a fan favorite at the San Siro, and was an integral part of the Inter defense during the fantastic five-year run that ended with 2010's memorable Treble.  The vice-captain was so well-loved that during warm-ups for Córdoba's final home matchup last season—the Derby della madonnina no less—Inter's players wore Córdoba's No. 2, and was mobbed by his teammates after the match, which he entered in the 84th minute.

    Córdoba played 455 matches in the center of Inter's defense—tenth of all time—and formed a highly effective pairing with Marco Materazzi during the height of Inter's title run.  Despite being only 5'8", he was an effective center-back due to his athleticism and precise timing, often bringing to mind Italian legend Fabio Cannavaro, who is only an inch taller.  He was just as adept in front of the opponents' goal as was his defense partner—he scored 18 times for the club in his 13 years.

    Internationally, Córdoba captained his country to a 2001 Copa América win and also played in the 1998 World Cup in France.

Sandro Mazzola

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    1960-1977

    Mazzola is fourth on Inter's all-time goals list, and no forward has played more games for the nerazzurri.

    The son of Italian soccer legend Valentino Mazzola—the captain of the exceptional Torino squad that was killed in the Superga air disaster—was a one-club man, and one of the greatest players of the era known to Inter fans as La Grande Inter.  He ended his career with four scudetti, two consecutive European Cups and two Intercontinental titles.

    Over the course of his 17-year career, he scored 160 times in all competitions for Inter and was joint capocannoniere in 1964-65.  Internationally he scored 22 more goals in 70 international caps.  He highlighted his international career with a victory in the 1968 European Championship and by reaching the World Cup final against Pele's Brazil two years later, falling 4-1 at the Azteca in Mexico City.

    Now 70 years old, he is still seen as a commentator on RAI in Italy.

Roberto Boninsenga

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    1969-1976

    If we're going to talk goals per game average, Roberto Boninsenga is definitely up there.  His 171 goals in 281 games is good for .61 GPG, and is good for third on Inter's all-time list.

    Boninsenga was capocannoniere in 1971 and '72, and led Inter to the scudetto in 1970-71 with 24 goals in 28 games.  He scored more than 20 goals three times for the nerazzurri and was only kept from scoring double digits once (when he scored nine in 1974-75).

    Boninsenga played three seasons with Juventus—winning two scudetti, a Coppa Italia and a UEFA Cupand one with Hellas Verona in Serie B before retiring for good in 1980.

Alessandro Altobelli

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    1977-1988

    Altobelli spent 11 years with Inter, and is one of only two players to have scored 200 goals for the club—209 to be exact.  He remains second in club history to Giuseppe Meazza, and should occupy that spot for quite some time—the third man on the list is 38 goals behind him.

    Altobelli contributed to Inter's scudetto win in the 1979-80 season, and to Coppa Italia wins in 1977-78 and '81-82.

    After leaving the San Siro in 1988, he played one ineffective season for Juventus and one more slightly better one for Brescia before retiring.  He is now a commentator for the Al Jazeera sports network in Italy, along with Cesare Maldini.

Walter Zenga

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    1982-1994

    No Inter goalkeeper has made more appearances than Walter Zenga.  Indeed, Zenga is seventh on Inter's all-time appearances list with 473, nearly 100 more than the next keeper, Ivano Bordon.

    After Bordon moved from Inter to Sampdoria in 1983, Zenga became the team's top keeper and allowed a league-low 23 goals in his first season between the sticks.  He was even better in '86-87, when he gave up only 17 goals in the 30-game season.  Two seasons later Inter won the only scudetto they would take during Zenga's stewardship of the goal.

    Always a fan favorite due to his flamboyant nature and excellent play, he was often known as Spider Man for his agility in goal, Zenga added two UEFA Cups to his trophy tally before leaving Inter in 1994 for Sampdoria.  Two years later he moved to Padova before becoming one of the first European players to move to the newly-minted MLS in the United States.

    Since retiring as a player, he has managed teams all over Europe and the Arab world, including two years in Italy as the manager of Catania and then Palermo, where he was the victim of Maurizio Zamperini's pathological inability to allow a manager to last a full season with his club, and left after less than a year.

Giuseppe Baresi

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    1977-1992

    Giuseppe Baresi's longevity with the team rivals that of current talisman Javier Zanetti.  Making his debut for the team at the age of 19, Baresi played 559 matches for the nerazzurri.  While overshadowed by his younger brother Franco, who in 1999 was voted Player of the Century for crosstown rivals AC Milan, he helped Inter in two scudetti, two Coppa Italia titles and a Supercoppa.

    Never an offensive player, Baresi only scored 13 times in his 15-year Inter career, but was an integral part of the team's defensive effort and is rightly looked upon as a club legend.

    After leaving the San Siro, Baresi spent two years in Serie B at Modena before retiring, so he didn't quite equal his brother as a one-club man.  Once he hung up his boots, however, he returned to the club he gave so much to, serving as director of the club's youth program until José Mourinho tapped him to be his assistant manager.  In the musical managers act that followed the Special One's departure to Real Madrid he has bounced in and out of the assistant manager's role, depending on which manager brought his own man to the job and which didn't.  He currently can be seen at the side of current manager Andrea Stramaccioni.

Luis Suarez

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    1961-1970

    No, not that Luis Suarez.

    The original Luis Suarez was a Spaniard, and he gained prominence as a forward at Barcelona.  When Helenio Herrera had a falling out with Barca and moved to Inter, he took his prodigy with him, buying him from his former team for 250 million lira (142,000 British pounds)—the most expensive transfer in soccer history at the time.

    Upon arriving in Milan, Suarez became a deep-lying playmaker in the style of modern day registe like Marco Verratti, Riccardo Montolivo and Andrea Pirlo.  Suarez then spurred the team on to three scudetti, back-to-back European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups.  He made 328 appearances for Inter, scoring 55 times.  He won the Silver Ball in 1961 and '64, and the Bronze Ball in '65.

    Simply put, without Suarez's contribution, La Grande Inter would likely not have existed.  Even had Herrera's catenaccio style been put into practice in the sixties, there is no guarantee that it would have run quite so smoothly without a player of Suarez's character to make everything go.

    Suarez left Inter in 1970 and played for Sampdoria for three years before retiring.  He went into coaching, first at the helm of Inter, then several other Italian teams before returning to his native Spain, where he coached Deportivo La Coruña. He then took over Spain's U21 team and then the senior team, which he led to the knockout stages of the 1990 World Cup.

    He has since taken the helm of his old team twice more in interim roles, and currently serves as a scout for the team.

Giuseppe Bergomi

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    1979-1999

    A one-club man if there ever was one, Beppe Bergomi played in 758 matches for Inter in all competitions, and while he only ever brought the scudetto to the blue side of Milan once (in 1989), he helped anchor the defense that ended up winning three UEFA Cups in the 1990s.

    Often known as lo zio for the mustache he sometimes wore, Bergomi's defensive prowess and versatility (he was equally comfortable at center-back and full-back) was legendary, and for a while he held the record for most games played by an Italian in European competition and for most appearances in the Derby della madonnina—records that were both eventually broken by Milan's Paolo Maldini.

    He also captained the national team in the 1990 World Cup, and was on the team that won the game's ultimate prize in 1982.  He played in four World Cups overall (1982, 1986, 1990 and 1998), but interestingly enough never had an appearance in a World Cup qualifying match amongst his 81 international caps.

    He retired in 1999, having spent his entire 20-year career with the nerazzurri and holding the team record for appearances, a record that was only recently surpassed by one of the few players who eclipse him in Inter's history.

    Upon retirement, he coached on the youth level at several clubs, and became a well-known analyst for Sky Italia's coverage of Serie A, often partnering with Fabio Caressa to call the league's top matchups.

Giacinto Facchetti

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    1960-1978

    One of the first truly great attacking full-backs, Facchetti is one of the best ever to play left-back.

    Another one-club man, Facchetti played 634 games for Inter (third of all time) and scored 75 goals, an astonishing number for a defender, even over the course of 18 years.  Another of the men who played for La Grande Inter, he was brought to the San Siro by Helenio Herrera from his hometown club of Trevigliese, where he was playing as a forward.  He was quickly moved to the left side of Inter's defense, and there he revolutionized the position.  Apart from his goal-scoring prowess, he was also renowned for his fair play—he was only ever sent off once in his entire career, for sarcastically applauding a referee after a controversial call.

    Over his time at Inter, he won four scudetti, two European Cups, one Coppa Italia and two intercontinental cups.  In 2004, Pele named him one of the 125 greatest living soccer players.  He also won the 1968 European Championship with Italy.  He captained the Azzurri 70 times and played in Savoy blue 94 times overall, a record that has since been surpassed by only three players (Dino Zoff, Paolo Maldini and Fabio Cannavaro).

    After his playing career, Facchetti held various positions in Inter's front office, from technical director to board member to eventually being elected president of the club in 2004, a position he held until his death from pancreatic cancer in 2006.  Inter took the unusual step in European soccer of retiring his No. 3 jersey after his death—to date, it is the only number that no Inter player will ever carry again.

Giuseppe Meazza

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    1927-1940, 1946-1947

    Yes, I know that this is a picture of a stadium.  It gets difficult to find pictures of old players like Giuseppe Meazza that you can be sure aren't copyrighted, but I think that the stadium that bears his name is as good a visual representation as any of Meazza's impact.

    Meazza was originally rejected by AC Milan for being too skinny, but eagerly snapped up by Inter.  The nerazzurri originally used him as a defensive player, but a coach quickly corrected the error, and Meazza became one of the greatest strikers Italy has ever produced.

    Meazza's records are numerous.  He still holds the Serie A record for most goals scored in a debut season (31).  He was the top scorer in the history of the national team for 39 years until Gigi Riva passed his record, and still occupies the second spot of all time.  He is far and away the leading goalscorer in Inter's history—his mark of 288 goals is 79 ahead of Altobelli, who is in second.

    Even more remarkable is that Meazza's scoring prowess came despite his penchant for women and alcohol.  He was known to arrive at the stadium an hour or less before a match after a night of carousing, only to score a hat trick and quench any retribution the club's directors might have been planning.

Javier Zanetti

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    1995-Present

    Always understated, the ageless Zanetti is one of the greatest players in the history of world soccer.  Somehow still playing at an elite level at the age of 39, Zanetti is the most-capped player in Inter history, having garnered 819 appearances with the club in all competitions (as of December 2).

    Zanetti was purchased from Argentinian side Banfield in 1995 (as the very first purchase made by new Inter owner Massimo Moratti), and claimed the captain's armband four years later.  Under his captaincy, Inter has won a total of 16 trophies: the 1998 UEFA Cup (he scored in the final), five straight scudetti from 2005-08 to 2009-10, four Coppa Italia titles, four Supercoppa Italiana wins, the 2010 Champions League crown and the ensuing Club World Cup.

    Never flashy or particularly vocal on the field, he leads by example as one of the most consistent players on the field.  He is also extremely versatile.  Having started his career at Inter as a right-back, he seamlessly moved into a defensive midfield role after the arrival of Maicon in 2006.

    His work ethic and love for the game is legendary.  Current Inter manager Andrea Stramaccioni (the 17th that Zanetti has played for at Inter) recently joked that the Argentine had to be "locked in the training ground" to keep him off the field for a rest in Inter's meaningless final group match in the Europa League against Neftchi.

    For his dedication to the club and his tireless work on it, Zanetti is undoubtedly the greatest player in the history of Inter Milan.