514 Appearances, 22 Goals, One Il Capitano, Giuseppe Bergomi!
Then 14 year old Giuseppe Bergomi was having his trials on a lush green San Siro pitch. He had impressed the coaches and was all set to be a part of Milan’s youth team, but health concerns made Milan rethink their decision to hand him a contract. While Franco Baresi was Inter through and through before he joined Milan, Bergomi was no different. But the key twist in his story is the fact that Milan ultimately refused to offer him a contract.
A person who goes by the name of Arcadio Venturi was keenly observing Bergomi during the Milan trials. He was one of the most famous Inter scouts at that time and he was convinced with what he saw. He knew that this kid was meant to be Inter player. As he quoted: “I spent all evening trying to convince how the number 6 of the training camp was really a boy made for Inter..he ran up and down the flank and protected the defense as well.”
It was a good thing that Inter trusted their scouts. Hence, they immediately signed Bergomi and drafted him into the youth setup. Bergomi featured for the youth team heavily and in 1980, at the age of 17 years and two months, he made his senior team debut against Como Oriali. Ten days later, he made his Champions League debut against Red Star Belgrade. Bergomi became another poster boy as a solid and young defender alongside the Baresi brothers for the National team. At the age of 18, Bergomi was chosen to represent his country at the 1982 FIFA World Cup after making his debut for the National team against East Germany in 1982.
Giuseppe Bergomi lining up for Internazionale
While he was a right back by trade, he could dit into the central defenders role as well as the Central Defensive Midfielders role. Bergomi was often deployed as a sweeper due to his superior sills and comfort on the ball for both club and country. But his most important asset was his game reading skills. Bergomi knew when the opposition player would make a move and was exceptional at sticking with his marker. This skill helped him adapt across multiple roles in the backline.
Just a teenager back then, Bergomi had the honour of being a World Champions at the tender age of 19. He had solidified his place both in the Inter lineup as well as the Italian National side. By now, every Italian had heard of the boy with bushy eyebrow and a signature moustache. Giuseppe Bergomi had become a household name in Italy. The sole reason for that was his commanding display in the World Cup Final. The 18 year old was given the responsibility to mark the great Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Bergomi was so dominant that Heinz was substituted off in the second half. What made the performance even more impressive was the fact that this was only his second start of the World Cup, the previous one coming in the Semifinals.
Giuseppe Bergomi lining up for Italy
1982 was one of his most successful season as a player as he won the Coppa Italia with Inter and the the World Cup with the National side. While he enjoyed success with the National team, A.C Milan was the dominant Milan side in the league with a rock solid defense and World beaters like Rijkaard and Van Basten. Although Bergomi was a consistent performer for his club and country, he won just one league title in his twenty years with Inter.
The 80s turned out to be a dry spell for Bergomi and Inter as they won the Scudetto just once, in 1988-89 season, along with winning the SuperCoppa Italiana at the start of the following season. Bergomi had to wait seven years after wining the World Cup to get his hands on another silverware. While the club had a blip in form, Bergomi was ever consistent and was ever present in the Inter lineup. He played at least 35 games in every season following his debut campaign.
He represented his country in the 1986 World Cup and the 1988 UEFA Euros while he captained the 1990 World Cup side. By the year 1990, he had participated in three World Cups, but had never played in a single qualifier. He made his debut for Italy after they had finished the qualifiers in 1982, while Italy didn’t have to go through the qualification regime as they were the World Champions. In 1990, the World Cup was hosted by Italy, hence they again didn’t have to go through the qualification route to participate in the World Cup. As it later turned out, he missed the 1994 World Cup and was a surprisingly late addition to the 1998 World Cup by Cesare Maldini. Arrigo Sacchi froze him out of the first team in 1991 and it was only 7 years later that he made his return to the National side for the World Cup. Hence, he holds the unique record of playing in the most World Cup matches without playing any qualifiers.
Giuseppe Bergomi tussles for the ball
Bergomi was widely perceived as a leader and a light of motivation on the pitch for his players, and he captained Inter for the majority of 90s, winning 3 Uefa Cups and finishing as a runner up in his fourth finals. Bergomi was a loyal servant through some tough times for Internazionale and he was one of the most athletic right back of his generation, constantly going up and down the pitch. The fact that in his 20 years at the Nerazzuri, he played less than 35 games only once, apart from his debut campaign, is testament to his physical fitness. Bergomi was a regular starter and was a key attacking option down the right flank.
He will forever be fondly remembered as “Lo zio” or “the Uncle” due to his famous moustache by the Inter faithful. Legend says that some of his opponents used to call him as “the scary Uncle” on the pitch, due to his physical presence and no nonsense, all in defending. Among other names, he is also fondly remembered as “il Capitano” by the Inter faithful as he was probably the best captain Inter have ever had, in terms of personality and on field and off field attitude.
When he decided to hang his boots up in 1999, Bergomi had become the most capped player for Inter as well as the player with the most appearances in the Milan derby. While he may not be remembered or recognised by the Italians due to a small trophy cabinet, he has gone down as one of the greatest Italian defender of all time, and this was recognised by Pele as he named him in his prestigious list of the top 125 players of all time.