The moment you hear the name Filippo Inzaghi, you will probably immediately think of a 1.81m tall man scoring a goal by bouncing the ball into the near post.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s quote “He was born offside” is one of the most famous comments about Filippo Inzaghi’s playing style. However, whatever Fergie’s implication, the Italian striker still has many other strengths in the game. He has the ability to read the game, speeding up short paragraphs. In addition, Inzaghi has an impressive ability to finish with his head or both feet. All make Inzaghi one of the last remaining top-class poacher strikers in the football world.
Inzaghi does not possess the technical virtuosity nor the frequency of constant activity that modern strikers need to survive in today’s football world. All Inzaghi does is score many goals. Many people, including the great Johan Cruyff, say he is a lucky player and has limited skill.
But at least, to score 313 career goals, you also need to know where the goal is. And in the history of football, only six Italian players have scored more goals than him. In addition, no player from the boot-shaped country has scored more goals than Inzaghi in the European Cup or the Champions League.
In an interview with FourFourTwo, Inzaghi reminisced about his childhood at Piacenza, his playing career as well as thinking about his career as a manager.
– What are your first memories of football?
– In those days, you can learn skills on the street, play ball with your friends and use your backpack as a goal. You don’t see that anymore because the players all play PlayStation or kill time on Instagram. My brother and I used to go fishing that day, pick mushrooms in the afternoon or play football with friends. I recorded the matches on VHS tapes to watch when I got home. We often go hiking (hiking) and spend time doing group activities together outdoors.
Technology offers many advantages, but it also robs children of the joy of playing football on the street. Last summer vacation, I saw a sign that said: “No soccer”. I almost jumped when I saw it. Then when we go to dinner, everyone is glued to their phones. I have to admit, so am I. The day before, I couldn’t get on my phone for a few hours and felt like going crazy.
– You are one of the best poachers, so if you look at the situations when you score from outside the box, which is your favorite goal?
– I don’t score that many but I remember one: A free-kick for Atalanta in Bologna’s home defeat in November 1996. That season I was the “scorer” of Serie A with 24 goals. At that time I had a special relationship with the head coach Emiliano Mondonico and was assigned the responsibility of taking penalties or taking direct free kicks. Later in my career, other players would do set pieces and that season I scored from every situation on the pitch. Also, I remember a nice reverse bike kick from the penalty spot for Juventus against Galatasaray. It was an impressive goal.
– Joining Juve in 1997, how does it feel to share the dressing room with Antonio Conte, Alessandro Del Piero, Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps?
– I was 23 at the time, really still a boy with only one good season in Serie A for Atalanta. I have talent, but I still have to find my way in my career. The first time I met Didier Deschamps, Antonio Conte and Alessandro Del Piero, I felt like I had to tiptoe because I had so much respect for them.
– What caused you and Del Piero to quarrel?
– Alessandro and I have never had any problems. That whole story begins with the game against Venice in February 2000. I scored a hat-trick and in the second goal I could have passed the ball to him but didn’t. It was a typical Italian paradox: A striker scored three goals and he was criticized for not passing the ball. I’m tired of being criticized all the time, I score 25 to 30 goals every season but people always say I’m too selfish. However, I have no problem with Del Piero at all.
– What made you join Milan in 2001?
– President Silvio Berlusconi and CEO Adriano Galliani are very adamant about the deal and the Rossoneri shirt also appeals to me. Competing at the San Siro is always emotional, even when you come in as an opponent. When I announced my departure from Juventus, many fans tried to convince me to stay. However, I was 28 years old then and felt it was time to leave.
I was an idol at Juventus, in my first season there I scored a brace on my debut at the Supercoppa Italiana and a hat-trick the day we won the league title, 3-2 win over Bologna . We also reached the Champions League final, which we lost 0-1 to Real Madrid. I knew I had to have a fresh start at Milan but taking on new challenges has always been a mystery to me in my career.
– In the Milan derbies, which goal do you remember the most?
– I will always remember my first goal in a Derby della Madonnina: Header beat Francesco Toldo in October 2001. It was also my first derby and we won 4-2. You will never forget your Milan derby. A year later, I scored the only goal in a 1-0 win in front of the home fans. I will never forget that moment.
– How disappointed do you feel when you have to sit in the stands to witness Liverpool’s comeback in the 2005 Champions League final?
– I injured my knee so I was not on the registration list, but I was still on the field. I remember my teammates who played an excellent game. Entering the dressing room after the first half ended, I found the atmosphere very tense and Carlo Ancelotti had to remind everyone the game was not over. No one celebrated first as I’ve read in a few articles. People in the stands like me were already wearing a celebratory t-shirt inside but the players on the pitch didn’t know it.
We played brilliantly in that final, better than any other team and certainly better than the one in Athens two years later. However, six minutes of neglect in the second half cost us the championship. From there, everything went in a negative direction. Andriy Shevchenko has 2 good chances in minutes. Normally goalkeepers wouldn’t be able to block shots like that, but somehow Jerzy Dudek did. I couldn’t help my teammates avoid the defeat that night and the loss against Boca Juniors in the Intercontinental Cup in Japan two years earlier. I only played for a few minutes and wasn’t at my best. It’s disappointing.
– How did England and Milan translate the disappointment of 2005 into the 2007 final in Athens?
– Not only the Champions League, thank god, fate soon gave me the opportunity to pay back the debt I lost in the finals against Liverpool and Boca Juniors themselves in 2007. With the match in Athens I was not in my best form. but I’m fully fit for the Club World Cup final in Yokohama. I ended up scoring twice in both games. I played a big part in winning the Champions League that year: My goals in Milan’s win over Red Star Belgrade in the first leg, then second half final against Liverpool is perhaps what describes it. I am the most accurate. I was close to the offside line when Jamie Carragher moved up, then I received the ball, dribbled past Pepe Reina and finished the goal.
– Played with Del Piero, Shevchenko, Ronaldo, Christian Vieri, Zlatan Ibrahimovic… Who is your favorite partner?
– I have played with many great players and I enjoy playing with all of them. If I had to choose, I would choose Vieri in the Italian national team and Kaka at the club level. Vieri and I are still best friends. As players, we complement each other well and it’s unfortunate that we don’t get to play together more often.
There was one game that I remember as Wales in Euro 2004 qualifying: Italy won 4-0 and I scored a hat-trick. I still don’t understand why two strikers like us don’t play against each other often. We’re often forced to rotate and that’s pretty frustrating for both of us.
When I think of Kaka, I think of the three finals we played and the trophies we won together in 2007: Champions League, Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup against Sevilla. I scored five goals in three games and most of them were assists.
– Are you disappointed that you didn’t get to play more in the 2006 World Cup?
– I want to play a little more. I came on as a substitute and scored against the Czech Republic in the group stage. I was fit but those were my only minutes in the tournament. However, I must say that I try to help the team in other ways off the pitch. I am very happy with the team’s achievement and proud to have won the World Cup with my teammates. The Calciopoli scandal had a huge impact that year, something that changed every player’s mind. In addition, we also needed a bit of luck because we played a relatively light tournament until we faced host Germany in the semi-finals.
– You have played alongside brilliant creative players at both club and national level. Are you the one you like the most?
– I really feel good about and understand Francesco Totti. He is a big player and always plays with one touch. After the 1998 World Cup, he tried to lure me to Roma, but at that time I was still happy at Juventus.
– Sir Alex Ferguson once said of him: “He was definitely born offside”. Do you know this saying?
– I know that saying. Thank goodness I was born 1m ahead of the offside line, otherwise I wouldn’t have scored most of my career goals. Just kidding, I have to say that playing on the offside line is my specialty, something I’ve always wanted to use to my advantage. I try to erase the offside line and attack from there. It is not easy to teach this because it comes quite naturally. I have played against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United many times, although we have never talked about it.
I have received many compliments and criticisms throughout my career. I’m used to it and never bothered. If you don’t score in big games, someone will say you are not a striker capable of scoring decisive goals. If your technique is not perfect, people will say you are not technical enough. I’ve scored over 300 goals in my professional career, I know what I can bring and I’m happy with what I’ve achieved. Criticisms always push me to be better and prove them wrong. I am aware of my abilities and I know what I can do with the right attitude.
Johan Cruyff once said: “Inzaghi really can’t play football. He’s just always in the right place.” Do you mind that comment?
– I know that saying too. He used to be a great football player, however, I don’t really understand what those comments mean. I’ve always understood I’m not a striker who can dribble subtly and have great heel strikes, but I know how to score. Each has their own set of skills and scoring goals is important for any striker. I want to be remembered as Emiliano Mondonico – my former coach at Atalanta – once said: “Inzaghi does not love goals, but goals love Inzaghi”.
– Can you survive in today’s football when VAR eliminates a lot of goals scored when players are in an offside position?
– I like technology if it is used to erase all errors. I’m not too fond of it as a slow-motion tool but if it protects referees – when they’re only human and can make mistakes – then I really applaud it. The job of a line judge is very complicated. In my day, there were a lot of decisions that referees made based on emotions. During the match against Mexico at the 2002 World Cup, a lineman raised a flag and dismissed one of my goals even though I was sure I wasn’t offside. I guess VAR will probably also drop some of the goals I’ve scored and give me back some of the goals I’ve been stripped of.
– How is the life of a coach different from that of a player?
– Being a player is much easier than being a coach. When you step onto the pitch, you just have to lean on yourself. I know I can do something at one point in the game. Being a coach is more complicated: It’s not just you, there are many influencing factors. You have 30 players handling the problem as well as the coaching staff, the board of directors, the president and the expectations of the fans. This is a completely different job. The trick is to always be yourself, learn from the coaches you’ve worked with and add to the experience you have. A coach will always improve and develop over time, you need to have faith in yourself and everything you do and do it with passion.
Football has given me a lot as a player – more than I could have ever imagined – and now, I love being a coach because it allows me to pass on what I’ve learned. I want the players to know that determination is the key to success. There will be difficult times. Some coaches win titles and the next season they get sacked, and that happened to me. I don’t think I was the best coach before I was sacked or I won’t be able to do this job anymore after failures like that. I love what I do but also keep my composure at work.
– His coaching style has been compared to his former teacher Carlo Ancelotti. How important is he to you both as a player and as a manager?
– Ancelotti is the most important coach and person I have ever met in the world of football. I worked with him for more than 10 years, first at Juventus and then at Milan. He is a very special man. You cannot imitate his style. This man has a distinct calm and he makes people love him, even if you don’t play much on the team he leads. Ancelotti is a wonderful person and an inspiration to all of us.
Sometimes I talk to him and ask for advice. We have a good relationship. Recently, I called him to say that even if Liverpool lead Real Madrid 2-0 in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16, I know everyone at home should stay calm because he will turn things around. position. In the end, Madrid came back and won 5-2. Carlo is good at that.
– How do you treat players? How do you make sure they feel at their peak and perform at their best?
A coach must understand his players and who they will talk to. You can’t talk to all players the same way. There are introverts, there are extroverts, a good coach must understand all and choose how to talk to them. I want to avoid the mistakes that some coaches have made with me. Sincerity is the most important thing. I want to say what they have instead of petting or pretending.
When a player knows the head coach is lying to him, trust is lost forever. I want to keep a good relationship with everyone and I feel part of the players. However, they must understand there are rules to follow. I’ll praise them when they deserve it, and tell them straight up if they don’t do well.
– Who will win the scudetto as coach first, you or your brother Siomne?
– Simone for sure because he’s a good coach and he deserves it. We often have candid conversations after our games. Unless he has to fly or have no TV, he always watches the matches of the clubs I manage, and vice versa. Simone is one of the best coaches in Europe and has done great things. In Italy, if you are too polite like him, you will often receive a lot of criticism. He never shouted loudly but acted politely. Italians like coaches who scream and act a little too much for them. My brother is not a coach like that.
Italy has failed to qualify for two consecutive World Cups. Is Italy currently lacking in talent? Or have other teams found a way to counter the Italian style of play? Will the Azzurri struggle to qualify for the 2026 World Cup?
– I don’t think so, Italy is still the team that won Euro 2020. In the European qualifiers, we were unlucky and ended in a very bad way. If you could replay the match against North Macedonia 100 times, Italy would win 99 times. It’s hard to accept to see Italy continue to stay out of a World Cup. The Azzurri have some promising talents, for example Gianluca Scamacca or Giacomo Raspadori. Scamacca will become a better and stronger player when he plays in England, and Raspadori is playing well at Napoli. It must be said that Ciro Immobile is still the number one striker of Italy. I would like to see him play next to one of those two names.
– Two decades ago, Italy had you, your brother Simone, Totti, Vieri, Del Piero, Roberto Baggio, Enrico Chiesa and Luca Toni to choose from. Why is the Azzurri producing so few top strikers now?
– It’s the cycle. Italian football must let its players play, and at the same time be more open and bold with young players. Italy has some very good players for example Federico Chiesa alongside Raspadori and Scamacca. Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Nicolo Barella and Marco Verratti are the top players, however, we are struggling a bit in defence, with the careers of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci drawing to a close.
In my time, Italian football was number one in Europe, not only in terms of strikers. My generation took Milan to the Champions League final three times in 2003, 2005 and 2007. We only stopped in 2004 because of Deportivo La Coruna’s once-in-a-lifetime comeback in the quarter-finals despite winning 4- 4. 1 in the first leg. In 2006, we were unlucky when we lost to Barcelona because the decisive goal in the semi-final was scored by Ludovic Giuly. That year, I scored twice against Lyon and Bayern Munich but could not attend the match against Barca because of tonsillitis. The last Italian club to win the Champions League was Inter. Everything was a long time ago
By Daniele Verri | FourFourTwo