For me, it was always a matter of life or death. Every game, every ball.
Unpleasant, unbearable, tedious. I’ve been called all sorts of things. But you know, this is the way I am. I’ve always been like this. Whether I’m playing a football match or a game of ping-pong with my children, losing really pains me.
And when I’ve lost, I’ve never been ashamed to cry: releasing those pent-up feelings helps. The Nerazzurri tears I shed encompassed a wide array of emotions, from dejection and despair to joy and love. They also encompassed glory. My journey at Inter was like being on a roller coaster: there were bumps along the road, there were twists and turns, steep inclines and feelings of euphoria.
I cried on 5 May, I cried after the Derby in the Champions League, I cried when when Giacinto passed away, I cried when we won everything, and I cried when I hugged Mourinho and told him to stay.
Writing these words makes me feel like I’m sitting on roller coaster. So buckle up, we’re about to enjoy a ride together.
When I joined Inter, it didn’t take me long to realise that it would be different here. I feel as though everything I did in the Nerazzurri shirt was worth double: ‘Against everything and everyone’.
Overcoming challenges is something I’d got used to as a child.
My father was a coach, so we used to follow him from city to city. This meant that I was regularly forced to say goodbye to friends and start from scratch, with this applying to both school and football. I achieved everything I did one step at a time, sometimes with great difficulty on tough pitches.
When I’m asked about how heavily that penalty kick in the World Cup or the Scudetto decider in Siena weighed on me, I refer to two balls: the light, unpredictable and care-free Super Tele ball which I enjoyed playing with when growing up. The other ball is the proper, heavy ball you play with as an adult, through which you learn to take responsibility. I used to watch games being played by those older than me, I even performed the role of linesman to be close to the action.
Siena, 2007. I said to my wife and children: "Don't worry, I'll bring you back the Scudetto." When I look back at my celebration with my friend Dejan after the first goal, it sends shivers down my spine. He didn’t actually watch my penalty (taken twice), but I was never going to miss: it was just the beginning of our journey. After that game, I remember Nicola Berti’s words making me feel proud and happy: he said that I was his successor because I embodied what it was to be Nerazzurri.
And you could say that I’d already proven this. In the summer of 2006, Giacinto was already unwell. He was like a father, a brother and a friend to me. He understood me, even during the most difficult times. As Berlin approached, I wrote to him and said: “I’m waiting for you to come and see me.” However, I knew it wouldn’t be possible. At the end of August, I promised that I’d visit him in hospital and bring him the Italian Super Cup. We won 4-3 against Roma and I did just this. That day, he had visitors wanting to make an imprint for the Golden Foot. I helped lift him up, and he leaned on me as the cast was made. He died a few days later.
I couldn’t not talk about Giacinto. But now the Nerazzurri roller coaster is surging towards 2009/10. When it comes to this season, I feel that it’s necessary to start right from the very beginning, from Pasadena and the friendly between Chelsea and Inter. We lost 2-0, but there was the feeling that something was emerging. I sent a now-famous text to Eto’o, who didn’t have my number: “If you come to Inter, we’ll win everything.”
Speaking of text messages, Mourinho would often send them. This was his way of keeping everyone on their toes. We all felt included, even those who were playing less. The intensity in training was always high. Every session was a small war where everyone would give their all.
Do you know what the turning point was that season? The 3-1 defeat to Catania. Guys, I can still hear José shouting to this day. He completely tore into us. We then headed to London for Chelsea vs. Inter knowing that it could all go up in smoke in just a matter of days. But instead...
Another tough moment was the 2-2 draw in Florence. But we tried to find the positives as we returned to Milan: “Come on, maybe this will be a valuable point come the end of the season.” And so it proved to be.
I damaged the dugout in Barcelona, but I swear I didn’t do it on purpose. I saw Messi cut inside and let fly with that left-footed effort: Julio leapt across and I leapt up, resulting in the damage...
Rome, Lazio 0-2 Inter. With the match about to end, Mourinho approached me and said: “Marco, would you like to play in the Coppa Italia final?” I still smile when I think back to it today: would anyone have said no in response? After that fixture, I trained on the Olimpico pitch, and it was one of the most intense sessions of my life. I began playing that final against Roma three days in advance... and what a battle it was.
And then there was Madrid. Mourinho had been clear in explaining that Cordoba was better suited to come on against Barcelona, who would bring on Bojan during the match, while I needed to be ready to face Bayern, who would possibly send on Gomez. So I knew that I’d play, be it ten minutes, one minute or ten seconds. It wasn’t important how long I’d be on the pitch for, the only important thing was for us all to see it through.
I wanted to close the circle, the roller coaster needed to finish in the best way possible. Everyone keeps asking me about Milito’s feint and if we’d prepared it in training. But it’s quite simple: with Diego, you knew what was coming but you were never able to stop him. We were also delighted for Moratti, who was as happy as a child at Christmas.
And we wanted to fly back to Milan immediately to celebrate with you at San Siro, but Pandev took ages in the anti-doping room. So if you waited at the stadium until dawn, you should take it up with Goran!
I’ve already talked about tears: often children cry out of fear before getting on a merry-go-round that will go at full speed. But once they’re on, they don’t want to get off. I won the World Cup, which for me was like winning ten trophies. And while at Inter, I won everything. But my secret was that I was never satisfied with what I’d achieved. Even today, I still feel regret at the team letting those five trophies slip away (the Coppa Italia and Italian Super Cup defeats and the loss in the UEFA Super Cup).
Winning for our colours is the best thing that exists, I’ve always felt a close bond to Inter. The Nerazzurri faithful gave me strength and I always tried to display this out on the pitch. You often thank me for our triumphs, but I’d like to thank you, both for your support and for your passion.