MILAN – "I’ve worn many jerseys in Italy, and I’ve respected them all. But Inter was my first love, the first club to bring me to this country," was how Sebastien Frey summed up his bond with the Nerazzurri in a recent interview with inter.it.
Many people might look at Frey’s 45 appearances for Inter and wonder how such a strong connection can have been forged, but the 37-year-old has always insisted that those few matches left a lasting impression on him. Such was his love for the club that he jumped at the chance to pull the gloves back on and represent Inter Forever recently – and though he might have been a fair few years older than he was back in 1999, the excitement of donning the Inter jersey was as strong as it had always been.
Frey announced himself to the Inter fans at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, one night in May. Roy Hodgson’s Inter side were enduring a tough season, but the quality of their starting eleven was beyond question. This was the team of Roberto Baggio, of Ivan Zamorano, of Ronaldo. Staring them down from the other side of the pitch were Paulo Sergio, Francesco Totti and Marco Delvecchio, the attacking fulcrum of Zdenek Zeman’s 4-3-3 formation. Frey watched on from the bench.
On 63 minutes, with the Nerazzurri leading 4-3, Gianluca Pagliuca suddenly pulled up, unable to continue. The eyes of the Olimpico fell on the young Frenchman sitting in the Inter dugout. Barely 18, Frey hailed from Thonon-les-Bains, a small town on the shores of Lake Geneva. His family was mad about football – his grandfather, Andre, had travelled all round France for the sport, while his younger brother Nicolas would go on to become a stalwart at Chievo Verona. Nicolas chose to become a defender, in line with the family tradition, but Sebastian was different, more exuberant, and decided to spend his career between the sticks.
That May night in Rome was Frey’s fourth appearance for the Nerazzurri and it may well have been his most memorable, as Frey himself explained: "In a second I went from celebrating like a madman on the bench every time we scored to standing in the goal. It was crazy. At the end of the game, Bergomi came up to me and gave me a hug. For a young lad like me, it definitely wasn’t an easy thing to do." The youngster had gone from blond-haired bright-new-thing to Inter’s No.22, soaking up the praise of one of the greatest Inter players of all time, Beppe Bergomi.
Frey had caught Inter’s eye during his stint at Cannes, where he showcased a glimpse of the potential that would see him become one of the best goalkeepers in Serie A for the decade that followed. In truth, Frey only really realised that potential after leaving Inter for Parma and Fiorentina, where – under the stewardship of Cesare Prandelli – he became an integral part of a great Viola side.
During one difficult period, Frey turned to a friend from his Inter days: Roberto Baggio. The forward introduced him to Buddhism and spirituality in general, which helped Frey regain balance and strength. The Frenchman eventually left Florence for Genoa and finally Bursaspor, where he experienced two years of ups and downs in what would be his last spell as a player. Frey arrived in Turkey in 2013 and enjoyed a fantastic season, but was suddenly – and, to many, inexplicably – cut out of the picture the following year. In July 2015, Frey cancelled his contract with the Turkish side, and in December of the same year hung up his boots for good.
Frey made no song and dance about his retirement. Yet he left good memories everywhere he went, and there can be no better sign of a true leader, on and off the pitch. And while Frey’s career led him away from the Meazza, he always kept a little piece of Inter with him.