Derby meetings enjoy pride of place in the Italian football calendar, with the classic match-ups usually rooted in geographical rivalries. Cities such as Milan, Rome, Genoa and Turin have enjoyed epic jousts between neighbours down the years, while the Sicilian derby between Palermo and Catania sparks sentiments no less fervent. Serie A nonetheless boasts a whole series of duels born of long-simmering competitive rivalries, with one of the most glamorous being that of giants Inter Milan and Juventus. Or, as the locals call it, Il Derby d'Italia.
No one knows for sure when the term Il Derby d'Italia was originally coined, but a marker was laid down in the 1967/68 season when Italy’s most influential sports journalist of the last century, Gianni Brera, first added it to his lexicon. Brera tended to be a trendsetter in the Italian game and it was he too who conjured up the term catenaccio (door bolt) to describe the prevailing defensive strategy of the 1960s.
An Italian football championship was first established in 1898, though it was only with the creation of a single, unified division in 1929 that it took on the recognisable form of today. Founded in 1897, Juventus quickly covered themselves in glory in the new-look league by stacking up a collection of titles, though it was Inter who claimed the first Serie A championship in 1929/30. Brought into existence after a split among AC Milan supporters, I Nerazzurri were another powerful force in the early years, as well as being the only Italian club never to have been relegated. Together, they and Juve left their rivals feeding off scraps, and it was doubtless their impressive grip on proceedings during the 1930s that prompted Brera to choose them as Derby d'Italia protagonists.
Since that era, of course, AC Milan have crammed their own trophy cabinet full of honours, and they argue that they have earned the right to ‘derby of Italy’ status. As far as supporters around the country are concerned, however, the high-profile encounter has always brought together Milan’s city rivals and I Bianconeri.
Facts and figures
The very first meeting between the sides took place over 100 years ago, on 14 November 1909, when Juventus picked up a 2-0 win in Turin thanks to two goals by Ernesto Borel. Since then, the teams have crossed paths 215 times in competitive fixtures, with the next instalment due in Turin on Sunday.
Hosts Juve will go into that match with history very much on their side, having racked up 95 victories to Inter’s 67, with another 53 drawn. The Old Lady also lead the way on the goalscoring front, boasting 307 strikes in derby matches to Inter’s 270, while the same is true even if Serie A contests alone are taken into account. Although they have been closing the gap in recent seasons, I Nerazzurri have managed just 56 wins against their old rivals in the league, losing 81 and drawing the other 46.
The highest-scoring encounter dates back to 10 June 1961, when Juve beat an Inter reserve team 9-1, and the victors on that occasion can likewise pride themselves on the biggest away success, a 6-2 win in Milan on 19 June 1975. For their part, Inter can at least lay claim to the only player to have plundered four goals in a single derby game, Italian-Swiss midfielder Ermanno Aebi, who accomplished that feat during a 6-1 victory for his side in November 1911.
Tales of derbies past
The largest career haul in the fixture stands at 12 goals, a figure reached by a select band of players including the great Giuseppe Meazza, who ran up his tally over three decades. He opened his account with a double in the last derby of the 1928/29 season as Inter prevailed 3-1, and I Nerazzurri won 4-0 when he netted a hat-trick in 1935/36. He then marked his only season in Juve colours (1942/43) by registering in a 4-2 away win and a 3-1 away loss.
Roberto Boninsegna was another player to find the net for both clubs and also signed off with 12 strikes in Derby d'Italia assignments, including seven for Inter in Coppa Italia tussles and a hat-trick for Juventus. Although he eventually developed a strong attachment to the Bianconeri cause, he was less than impressed when told by Ivanoe Fraizzoli that he had been transferred to the Turin side, snapping at the then Inter president: “Go to Juve yourself!”
Another man to have left his mark on the fixture is Omar Sivori, scorer of 135 goals in 215 outings for Juve. Six of those came in unusual circumstances after the two clubs initially met at a packed Stadio Communale in Turin on 16 April 1961 for a match crucial in the destination of the title. “There were people everywhere, even on the bench next to [Inter coach] Helenio Herrera, but there wasn’t any real danger,” recalled Inter’s Aristide Guarnieri.
The referee nonetheless abandoned the match with 31 minutes played after an Inter shot against the woodwork prompted some fans to take to the pitch. Inter were handed a 2-0 win by the authorities which took them to the top of the standings, but on 3 June – and with just one match of the season remaining – Juventus succeeded in their appeal for a replay. Nerazzurri president Angelo Moratti – the father of current president Massimo – was absolutely furious and decided to send a youth line-up in protest. Thus, on 10 June, Juve recorded a merciless 9-1 rout to seal the title, Sivori helping himself to six of their goals.
That historic encounter also marked the final appearance of Juventus icon Giampiero Boniperti, who struck 178 times in 444 matches for the club he now serves as honorary president. After the final whistle, the forward reportedly took off his boots and handed them to the club physio, saying: “Take them. They’re no use to me anymore. I’m quitting football today.”
While one legend said his goodbyes, another was introducing himself to top-flight football, the Inter team that day featuring a certain Sandro Mazzola. “I was only just able to play that game as I was supposed to take an end-of-year accounting exam at the same time,” said Mazzola, who went on to net the visitors’ consolation effort. “My parents believed that studies should take precedence over football, but thankfully they gave in eventually and I was able to take my exams in the morning before a club car drove me to Turin.”
As for Pietro Anastasi, the Bianconeri marksman displayed a remarkable knack for giving his team the perfect start to derby meetings. He registered twice in a 2-1 win at San Siro in 1968/69, hitting the target in the second and tenth minutes, and the following season he got on the scoresheet in the opening minute of a 2-1 victory in Turin. Not satisfied with those goals, Anastasi went on to conjure second-minute strikes in a 3-1 loss in 1972 and a 6-2 success in 1975.
While the fixture itself has long been critical in the Serie A title race, it has traditionally roused passions without ever being scarred by unseemly incidents. Tensions have nonetheless been raised since 2006, when Juve were stripped of two Scudettos due to the Calciopoli affair and had their 2006 crown handed to I Nerazzurri.
For Massimo Moratti, today the teams share “a pathological rivalry, in sporting terms, which has always existed and will always exist”, adding that: “the derby is football itself: the memories, the emotions, the anguish, the joy, the pain. It’s got football’s charm and spectacle too. The derby is about all of those things.”
The rivalry today
Since 2006, Inter have reigned supreme in Serie A, stringing together five consecutive titles. The departure of coach Jose Mourinho in the summer proved something of a watershed, though, and the club struggled in the early part of the season, not helped by an incredible list of injuries to players. Under Rafael Benitez, the club were nonetheless still able to win the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup, and since Leonardo replaced the Spaniard in the dugout they have settled into an impressive rhythm in the league, hauling themselves to within five points of leaders AC Milan with a game in hand.
Out of the running for championship honours this term, Luigi Del Neri’s Juve have also had to cope with numerous injuries. For all their problems, however, they lie just four points out of the UEFA Champions League places and six behind Inter in a tight table – and having recorded a goalless draw in the away fixture they intend to close that gap even further when they tackle the Old Lady in Turin on Sunday.