Sandro Mazzola is nothing short of an Italy and Inter Milan legend. A prominent member of la Grande Inter, the great side of the 1960s, he spent his entire career with the Milan giants, scoring 160 goals in 565 matches. The winner of four scudettos, two European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups with his club, he also helped Italy claim the 1968 UEFA European Championship and appeared at three FIFA World Cup™ finals, amassing a total of 70 caps and 22 goals on the way.
The son of the famous Torino inside-left Valentino Mazzola, who died in the Superga air disaster on 4 May 1949, the 66 year old is regarded as one of the greatest Italian footballers of all time. And on the eve of his beloved club's 100th birthday Mazzola chatted to FIFA.com about a life with Inter.
FIFA.com:Alessandro, your father Valentino was a member of the great
Torino side of the 1940s. Why did you choose to play for Inter
Alessandro Mazzola: I was only six when my father was killed. One day Benito Lorenzi, the Inter forward who played with my father in the Italy team and was a very close friend of his, came to my house. He asked my mother to let me to go to Milan to become the team's mascot. Giuseppe Meazza was also greatly affected by the Superga disaster and went out of his way to help my brother and I. The two of us would put on the full Inter kit, walk out with the players and stay by the side of the pitch during the matches. Even as mascots we were on bonuses and we used to get 10,000 lire for a win and 5,000 for a draw. It was a lot of money for our family.
But your father never played for Inter?
No he didn't, but I still have photos of him at home wearing the black and blue shirt, even though he never played an official game for them. Back then, even if you were an international and a major star, you had to have a trial if a club wanted to sign you and pose for pictures in the jersey. You just can't imagine that happening these days.
Did you ever regret the choice you made?
No, not at all. Everyone really took care of us at Inter. They were like a second family for me and that's why I stayed.
Did your surname help you in your football career?
It was very difficult when I was young because everyone expected me to be as talented as my father. But I didn't have the same qualities as him. The fans sometimes made very negative comments about me and that was hard to take, and it got so bad I was even thinking about giving up football at one stage. I wasn't a bad basketball player at the time and I had some trials with the Milan team, which was called Borletti back then. I played football and basketball for two months, trying to make my mind up what to do. In the end I chose football and when I started to make an impact I had twice as many fans because all the people who liked my father started getting behind me too.
You tasted glory with Inter under Helenio Herrera, the man
behind catenaccio. Was it not frustrating for a creative attacking
player like you to play in that kind of system?
In fact it was Nereo Rocco, the Milan coach, who first started using a libero. I'm just sorry that Herrera's Inter went down in history for catenaccio. You only have to look at the players that were in that team: Giuliano Sarti, Tarcisio Burgnich, Giacinto Facchetti, Gianfranco Bedin, Aristide Guarneri, Armando Picchi, Jair, Joaquin Peiro, Luis Suarez, Mario Corso and I. We had five attacking players in the side, six if you include Facchetti, who used to get forward a lot, something that no one else did at the time. It's true that we sometimes employed a very defensive system away from home, but we regularly played 4-2-4 and everyone worked really hard. We never felt like dancing after a game, I can tell you. In fact, in my opinion Helenio Herrera invented modern football.
Do you think there are any comparisons to be made between
your rivalry with Gianni Rivera and Francesco Totti's with
Alessandro del Piero?
No. Our's was even more fierce because it was much more than a personal rivalry: it was two teams from the same city battling against each other. In 1968, when the player's union was being set up, Rivera and I met in Milan. The fans saw us together and they were shocked. Even so, Rivera and I could never be friends. We respected each other but there was too much competition between us. And what's more, I was convinced I was a better player than him and he thought the exact opposite.
What is your happiest memory with Inter?
Our first European Cup triumph against Real Madrid in 1964. We won 3-1 and I scored two goals. Real were such a fantastic team back then, and they won everything. They had Alfredo Di Stefano too, who to my mind was a giant. Before the start of the game I remember standing on the pitch staring at him. It was like I was paralysed. Then someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Luis Suarez and he said to me: 'You're just going to stand there and look at him? Me, I'm going to play.' When the final whistle went I started running over to Di Stefano to swap shirts with him only for Ferenc Puskas to stop me. 'I played against your father,' he said to me. 'You did him proud and I want to give you my shirt.' That's the most valuable one in my collection today.
Suarez was also a vital component of that team.
Yes. He had this incredible will to win, a real passion to succeed. There was no such thing as a friendly when he was playing.
You made your international debut against Brazil in 1965 and went on to win the European Championship and play at three FIFA World Cup finals? What sticks out in your mind from your Italy career?
The 1970 semi-final against Germany (Italy won 4-3 after extra-time). Even though we had a great team, we didn't have much self-belief when we left for Mexico. We took lots of films with us to help us relax before games and by the semi-final came around we'd watched them all. That was the time when the coach Ferruccio Valcareggi used Rivera and I in his famous relay system. We both played a half each but never together. I played the first half against Germany and it was a wonderful memory for me.
Inter now have a 45-strong squad featuring 23 foreigners.
What do you make of that?
It's a very strong squad and it doesn't matter whether the players are foreigners or not. There are no barriers in football and quality is all that counts. Any team always needs someone like Javier Zanetti. He's a very hard worker and he never gets injured. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a class act too. He's the best in my book.
What's the difference between today's game and the
one you played?
It's more physical today and teams do more preparation now. Even though a host of new tactics came into the game when I was playing, there was still a lot of room for creativity then. Today it's all about physical strength and tactical awareness.
Which type of football do you prefer?