What Goes Up, Must Come Down, Must Come Back Up Again – The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Inter Milan

It has been a roller-coaster few decades for Inter Milan — we’re taking a look at the club’s transformation over the past 30 years.


The 1990s – Not Everyone’s Golden Age


Ask any Italian football fan and they’ll say football peaked in the 1990’s. It’s easy to see why. The decade started with a bang. By the end of the 89/90 season an Italian team had won the Champions League, Europa League and the Cup Winners Cup, a unique treble that’s never since been repeated.


The next ten years proved to be a lesson in dominance: Serie A teams broke the world transfer record 6 times, won 13 European cups and as home to 6 Ballon d’Or winners. A golden age, right? Not if you’re an Inter Milan fan.



While neighbours AC dominated in Europe and swapped Scudetto trophies with Juventus (winning five) the Nerazzurri struggled to stay relevant and were almost relegated in 1994.


Massimo Moratti – Underachievers Galore


1995 came around and it looked like fans prayers had been answered. Massimo Moratti could make a strong case that Inter Milan was in his blood. Moratti’s father, oil billionaire Angelo, had purchased the club in 1955 and guided the team through one of its greatest era’s, winning 2 Champions Leagues and 3 Scudetti before selling the club in 1968.


Now, a Moratti was back in charge and determined to match his father. He spent accordingly: between 1995 and 2005 Inter spent around €700m on new players, breaking the world transfer record twice (Ronaldo Nazario, Christian Vieri).


It didn’t work. Despite Massimo’s best efforts he didn’t know the first thing about running a club. A mixture of poor recruitment and manager fallouts meant the club continued to underachieve, winning one trophy in his first ten years at the helm.


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The 2000’s – The Path to Dominance


To better understand what happened next, you need to understand Italian football. It’s often said that what Italians have in style, they lack in substance. Football was no exception and the mid 2000’s, the cracks were showing. In most European countries, if a team builds a stadium, they own it. As long as they don’t break the law, they can renovate it or build a new one.


In Italy, city councils use public money to build stadiums and rent them to teams. This means three things:


  •   Government bureaucracy means it takes years to get anything built or renovated.
  •   Stadiums are old since government has other priorities (the average age of a Serie A stadium is 74) and often contain running tracks (since government want to get value for money)
  •   Teams don’t benefit from commercial revenue since the government owns the stadium.


This in turn impacted attendance figures, who’d want to watch games in an old crumbling stadium? Lower attendance figures in turn made it harder to market the league. By 2010-12 the Serie A TV deal was worth £866m, over the same period the PL TV deal was worth £1.8bn.



While it hadn’t got that bad just yet, it was starting to. While major clubs in England, Spain & Germany were turning TV money into trophies, their Italian counterparts were becoming increasingly reliant on their owners’ wallets. It was all going to come crashing down eventually, but one club continued to achieve.


2005-2010 – The Golden Age of the Nerazzurri


Things started slowly. In 2004, the club hired former Lazio manager Roberto Mancini. By the end of the season they’d finished 3rd and won the Coppa Italia. A modest improvement the following season, the Cup and a 2nd place finish, made it look like they were on the right path. Then, scandal. The right kind.


In what later became known as the Calciopoli scandal, a sting operation by Italian police revealed that Serie A champions Juventus had undue influence over the selection of referees for their matches. Juventus were retrospectively stripped of their Serie A title which was awarded to none other than… Inter Milan! But who wants to win in a courtroom?


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Over the next two seasons they proved this was no accident. Between 2006 and 2008 they’d witnessed a 17 game unbeaten run, two Scudetti and a Supercoppa Italiana. While poor European form in the 2nd season cost Mancini his job, there was excitement over who his replacement would be. Enter: the Special One.



The Peak


On 2nd June 2008 it was announced that Mancini would be succeeded by the Special One himself, Jose Mourinho. Mourinho’s first season in charge of Inter saw them bring home the league title 10 points clear of 2nd place. Following a summer in which the team recruited the likes of Samuel Eto’o & Wesley Sneijder, big things were expected of his 2nd season.


As ever, the special one delivered. By the end of the 2009/10 season the Nerazzurri had won the Scudetto, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. They’d become the first team in Italy to win the treble. The golden age of the Nerazzurri had officially come.


The Decline


As the title to this piece suggests, what goes up must come down. It started almost immediately when, in May of 2010, Mourinho announced he was going to manage Real Madrid. By the end of the next season Inter had limped to 2nd after cycling through two different managers. What a difference a year makes.


It didn’t improve either. Between 2011-13 they’d burned through another 3 managers and failed to finish higher than 6th. Could it get any worse? Yes, it could. By October of 2013, Massimo Moratti saw the writing on the wall. His beloved Inter, on which he’d spent €1.5bn of his own money, wasn’t sustainable. It was time to sell.


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“An extraordinarily gifted, beautiful girl. You will do everything you can to make her happy. But there comes a time when you have to send her to college. That’s the only way she’ll learn to stand on her own two feet.” So, he sold 70% of the club to Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir.


The Lean Period


You can guess what’s coming. The new owners had one goal, make Inter sustainable. Unfortunately, that and success don’t always mesh. It certainly didn’t for Inter. Budgets were slashed and the club failed to finish higher than 4th. A change in ownership in 2016, this time to Chinese retail giant Suning, didn’t change things. While they were more willing to spend (spending €300m in their first two seasons) the club still couldn’t crack the top four. They needed a miracle.


The Resurgence


That miracle was 5’10, mop-haired and angry. Former Italy boss Antonio Conte arrived in Milan in May 2019. He brought three things with him: Romelu Lukaku, Christian Eriksen and the best defensive strategy in Europe. It worked a treat. With a team consisting of the likes of Achraf Hakimi, Eriksen, Nicolo Barella, Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Conte dragged Inter to a 2nd place finish in his first season and a Serie A title in his 2nd, their first title in 10 years.



Sadly, Conte doesn’t like to hang around. Unhappy his stars were being sold (Lukaku and Hakimi) he resigned at the end of the title-winning season. It looked like post-Mourinho all over again. Except, the club had changed. Unlike the Inter of old, the club now scouted extensively and ensured the team was built from high potential youngsters and some of the best free agent signings of the last decade.


This new team, headed up by former Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi (another 3-5-2 enthusiast) has been a roaring success. Since 2020 they’ve won both domestic cups twice, been to the Champions League final, finished no lower than 3rd in Serie A and are currently on track to win their 20th Scudetto, with the club currently sitting 16 points clear in first place. Another golden era? Quite possibly.


By: Kieran Alder / @The_Own_Goal

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Mattia Ozbot – Inter