While some players like to dazzle fans with feats of extraordinary skill, others cultivate a knack for delivering end product. Filippo Inzaghi is a proud member of the latter camp, a fearsome forward whose no-nonsense style of play has tended to divide supporters down the years. “Born offside” according to Sir Alex Ferguson, the AC Milan striker can typically be found hovering on the shoulder of the last defender, ready to burst free and find the net from the most improbable of positions.
In addition to his winners’ medal from the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, that pragmatic approach has helped him amass an incredible list of honours at club level. He is also the first, and so far the only, player to have got his name on the scoresheet in every single club competition, during a career that began with Piacenza and has also involved stints with Juventus, Parma and Atalanta. Out of action following a cruciate ligament operation on his left knee on 23 November, the 38-year-old is currently plotting a remarkable comeback.
FIFA.com met up with the archetypal fox in the box, a breed of striker some say is threatened with extinction, and found a man whose passion for the game still burns fiercely. As he explained himself: “My goal now is to play again so that I can win back my goals record in European competitions.”
FIFA.com: Filippo, despite your injury, you remain determined to battle your way back at 38 years of age. What is your secret to staying motivated after such a long career at the highest level?
Filippo Inzaghi: It’s true that after spending as long as I have at the highest level, a number of injuries have nearly wrecked my career along the way. I’ve never given up, though, even at the most difficult moments, like when I damaged my cruciate ligament in November. My secret is the passion and love I have for what I do. I consider myself lucky because I’ve had the possibility in life to do the one thing closest to my heart: playing football. I’ve also been lucky enough to win prestigious trophies like two Champions Leagues and other competitions with Milan.
When you heard that Ronaldo was retiring, did some part of you feel it was time to hang up your boots as well?
Every player has to manage their career as they see fit. Naturally it meant something to me to see a great champion like Ronaldo, one of the greatest players of all time, decide to stop playing football. That said, I feel even luckier that I’m still able to carry on fighting to return at 38, and to be able to depend on the support of my club, my team-mates and the fans who are right behind me.
How would you define your style of play?
I think that my play is based above all on good timing. That’s very important for a player like me who spends games right on the edge of offside, always ready to spring towards the opposition goal. After that, instinct helps a lot in terms of putting the ball in the net.
Do you think that pure goalscorers like yourself are something of an endangered species?
A footballer’s instinct forms part of the make-up of his talents. But, beyond talent, you also need to show dedication during training and a great deal of discipline in your day-to-day life. I think there are plenty of players who have the talent but fail to exploit it properly. Talent is a gift that shouldn’t be wasted.
Which player has impressed you the most during your long career?
There’s been lots of them, but I think that if you take into account both age and talent, Lionel Messi is an extraordinary player.
If you were a child again today, who would be your idol?
It’s difficult to give names, but I’d have to choose a forward with qualities similar to those of the two idols I had when I was a kid: Marco van Basten and Paolo Rossi.
During your career, have you ever had a coach who asked you to help out more in midfield for the sake of the team?
Let’s just say that given the characteristics of my style of play, I’ve almost never dropped deep to help my team-mates. That said, it’s normal for any player in a team to go beyond his usual role and adapt to the needs of his side at certain moments of a game.
Which coach has left the greatest impression on you?
I remember Luigi Cagni and Bortolo Mutti with affection. The former [at Piacenza during the 1994/95 season] because of all the precious advice he gave me, and even today at 38 years of age he still helps me continue playing at the highest level. I recall the latter because it was he who gave me my first chance [at Leffe in 1992/93]. I’m also very attached to Carlo Ancelotti, who I had as a coach at both Juventus and Milan, and with whom I shared some unforgettable moments. I also formed a good bond with Massimiliano Allegri right from the start, and I hope with all my heart to win something for Milan and him.
Who has been the most difficult defender you have come up against?
I’ve found myself up against difficult defenders on numerous occasions. If I had to pick just one name, though, I’d say Paolo Maldini, whom I had the honour of facing as an opponent as well as playing with for many years at Milan, years in which we won some unforgettable victories.
As you look back over your career, what are your most cherished and most painful memories?
My best memory is without doubt the Champions League final in Athens in 2007, when I scored two goals against Liverpool [in a 2-1 win]. The worst memories are the various injuries which have kept me out for a long time. The losses themselves aren’t bad memories because they’re just part of the game.
Do you think you will still be able to win your place back at Milan, with Robinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato and Antonio Cassano also in the squad?
I’d answer that by saying that the day after my injury, the whole team came over to embrace me at Milanello [Milan’s training ground]. I have to say I was moved by that. I don’t think my return will cause any problems. On the contrary, it’ll give us even more options in attack. I want to bring this team something extra and I think I do. If I thought I might be a problem, I wouldn’t play here.
When will you be back out on the pitch?
Soon, hopefully. Very soon. My goal now is to play again so that I can win back my goals record in European competitions.