MILAN – With Italy facing Germany at San Siro on Tuesday evening, there’s no better time to travel back through time and revisit the special relationship between F.C. Internazionale and some of the finest players Germany has ever produced.
The story began in 1963, when Helenio Herrera – fresh from his first Scudetto win with Inter – brought in 29-year-old midfielder Horst Szymaniak, who had impressed during a two-year stint at Catania, to strengthen his Nerazzurri side.
Yet the German, who had played in two World Cups and enjoyed a fine career in his homeland with Karlsruhe and Wuppertal, struggled at Inter. Herrera instantly placed him on a diet to improve his fitness when he arrived, but Szymaniak still found his playing time limited – mainly due to the fact that the rules stated you could only play two foreign players at a time and Herrera almost always went with Luis Suarez and Jair da Costa.
Szymaniak made 12 appearances for the club in total, scoring no goals, but did play five times as Inter won the European Cup in the 1963/64 season. Overall, the German’s time at Inter was marked by frustration, and he joined Varese the following season.
Fourteen years would pass before another German donned the black and blue of Inter. Stuttgart-born Hansi Muller joined in 1982, heralding the beginning of a decade in which German after German would turn out for Inter.
Muller spent two seasons with the Nerazzurri, his flashes of brilliances blighted by several injuries, but will be remembered for an incredible free-kick on his debut against Verona. The midfielder developed a love for fashion, the Italian language and Italy as whole during his time in Milan – he learned Italian in just a few months and still speaks it well today.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge – an international team-mate of Muller’s and the current CEO of Bayern Munich – was the next to join Inter’s German revolution. Kalle – as he was known – arrived at San Siro at the age of 29, after a glittering career with Bayern and West Germany.
Rummenigge was attracted to Inter by his childhood idol, Sandro Mazzola, though the great man had been retired for years by the time Kalle arrived in 1984. The German forward’s three-year spell at Inter was affected by injury, but did provide two unforgettable moments – both in his first season at the club and both at San Siro.
The first was his incredible disallowed overhead kick strike against Rangers in the UEFA Cup in October 1984, while the second was a brace in a memorable 4-0 win over Juventus, Kalle scoring a header and then finishing off a lightning-quick Nerazzurri break.
In the summer of 1988, a year after Rummenigge had bid Inter farewell, two more Germans arrived in Milan from Bayern Munich. As part of a wonderful team led by Giovanni Trapattoni, a coach whose career would later take him in the other direction, they would write their names into the Inter history books.
One half of the duo was Lothar Matthaus, the powerful midfielder blessed with incredible leadership skills and a fearsome right peg. The other was the two-footed Andreas Brehme, one of the best full-backs in Nerazzurri history and a sublime crosser of the ball.
Inter won the Scudetto with a record-breaking 58 points in the German duo’s first season with the club, Matthaus sealing the title with a goal against Napoli at San Siro.
And it was while San Siro’s love affair with Matthaus and Brehme was burning brightest that one Jurgen Klinsmann was signed from Stuttgart. The blonde-haired striker would score 34 goals in his three seasons with the Nerazzurri, including one vital strike to spark Inter’s comeback against Aston Villa in the second round of the 1990-91 UEFA Cup – a competition the Nerazzurri would go on to win.
The three Germans also crossed paths with San Siro during their victorious World Cup 1990 campaign, Klinsmann and Brehme scoring in the Round of 16 against Holland and Matthaus – who would finish the season as a Ballon d’Or winner – finding the net against Czechoslovakia in the quarter finals.
The year 1992 was the end of an era for the German trio, as all three left the club. The same summer, the Nerazzurri signed 25-year-old defender Matthias Sammer, who had just won the German league with Stuttgart. Yet Sammer never got used to Inter’s three-man defence and departed after just half a season.
It was a similarly short stay 23 years later for Lukas Podolski, the most recent German to represent Inter.
So as Italy take on Germany at San Siro on Tuesday, allow yourself a moment’s nostalgia by thinking back to all the great German footballers to have graced that hallowed turf in Inter black and blue.