Grande Inter, under Herrera
Helenio Herrera became a relatively known figure in a post WW2 Spain after winning two league titles with Atletico Madrid during his management of the Colchoneros between 1949 and 1952. The six years that followed saw him coaching more mediocre teams, such as Malaga, Deportivo La Coruna, Sevilla and Belenses, until 1958, when he signed with Barcelona. Herrera bought another two Primera titles on Camp Nou and into his own personal record. In 1960, Herrera moved to Inter Milan, being the main catalyst for the golden ages in the club’s history known as Grande Inter.
Herrera is credited with transforming Internazionale into one of the greatest teams in Europe at that time. He bought Luis Suarez with him from Barcelona and it was a huge transfer since said midfielder has won the European Footballer of the Year award due to his contribution in the double won by the Blaugranas that year. Herrera modified a 5–3–2 tactic known as the Verrou (door bolt) to include larger flexibility for counterattacks. The catenaccio system was invented by an Austrian coach named Karl Rappan. Rappan’s original system was implemented with four fixed defenders playing a strict man-to-man marking system, plus a playmaker in the middle of the field who would the ball together with two midfield wings. Herrera improved this system by modifying the formation to add a fifth defender, the sweeper or libero behind the two centre backs; the sweeper would act as the free man and deal with any attackers who penetrated the two centre backs’ line. Besides, despite his highly defensive formation, he is team is credited for bringing out scoring abilities in his defenders and defensive midfielders, something that was a very rare occurrence during that age.
During Herrera’s first season at the club, Internazionale finished third in Serie A and second the next year before finally winning his first Scudetto in 1963, followed by back-to-back European Cup victories in 1964 and 1965. For his team’s performances, Herrera would earn the title ll Mago, (the magician). His first-squad was the fullbacks Tarcisio Burgnich and Giacinto Facchetti; sweeper Armando Picchi; playmaker Luis Suárez; winger Jair; left midfielder Mario Corso; and Sandro Mazzola, who played the inside-right. The 1963–64 European Cup campaign would see Internazionale defeat German club Borussia Dortmund in the semi-final and Partizan in the quarter-final. In the Final, they met Real Madrid, a team that had reached seven out of the nine finals to date. Real Madrid consisted of the ageing stars of the 1950s and a few emerging players that later go on to win the European Cup in 1966. It was Sandro Mazzola, however, who stole the show by scoring two goals in a 3–1 victory. Internazionale would then go on to claim the Intercontinental Cup over Argentine club Independiente. One year later, Inter repeated the feat by beating two-time winner Benfica in the Final held at home. Jair was the lone scorer in 1–0 win. Additionally, and for the second-straight year, Internazionale won the Intercontinental Cup over Independiente.
By 1967, Jair had left the club, though Inter nonetheless reached the European Cup Final. In the match, which star playmaker Luis Suárez missed due to injury, Sandro Mazzola’s penalty was not enough to stop Celtic from winning the title. Inter’s golden age came to an abrupt end in 1968, after Herrera left Inter to become Italy’s manager, but regardless, his contribution in Inter’s history remains memorable in every nerazzuri fan’s mind.