Inter Milan’s Best Ever Players

The only Italian club to never get relegated from top-flight football since 1909, Inter is one of the biggest clubs in the world. As such, it would never be easy to painstakingly go over their record books to pick the ten best players in the club’s history. We’ll start with the Honourable Mentions.

  • Mario Corso (1957-1973) – 509 games, 95 goals – top ten for both most games and goals, set-piece specialist, 8 trophies
  • Giuseppe Bergomi (1979-2000) – 758 games, 27 goals – entire career at Inter, second-most apps, winner of 3 UEFA Cups as captain
  • Ivan Cordoba (2000-2012) – 455 games, 18 goals – second most apps by a foreigner, solid CB partnership with Walter Samuel
  • Esteban Cambiasso (2004-2014) – 431 games, 51 goals – midfield partnership with Dejan Stankjovic and Wesley Sneijder in 2009/10 Champions League success
  • Diego Milito (2009-2014) – 171 games, 75 goals – scored both goals in the 2009/10 Champions League final
  • Samir Handanovic (2012-2023) – 455 games, 166 clean sheets – replaced Julio Cesar with aplomb for a decade

10. Lautaro Martinez

2018 – Current (261 games, 119 goals scored)

Major titles: Serie A, 2 Coppa Italia

Let’s start our list with the only guy that made it from the current squad. The Argentine World champion joined Inter from Racing Club in 2018. The striker is currently the club’s captain after Samir Handanovic and Marcelo Brozovic’s departures in the summer.

Martinez quickly settled as shown with his first Derby della Madonnina experience. He scored and assisted a goal against city rivals AC Milan as Inter completed the double over them for the first time in eight years.

With compatriot Mauro Icardi’s controversy isolating him from action, Martinez’s game time suddenly increased in the second half of his first season. Things were only about to get better for the young striker as Icardi left for PSG the next summer.

And, despite their group stage exit, Lautaro had a memorable Champions League season in 2019-2020. He scored in four competitive games of the competition including a memorable strike against Barcelona at Camp Nou.

It was also the first season for his iconic linkup with Romelu Lukaku. The duo helped Inter to reach the Europa League final with a striking partnership rarely seen since the 2010s.

Martinez was directly involved in 30 goals in all competitions the next campaign as he played in all 48 games. He netted his first Serie A hat-trick in the first game of 2021 against Crotone. Lukaku and Martinez had 41 combined league goals that season as Inter won the Scudetto for the first time in 11 years.

2021-22 saw Martinez complete the domestic set as Inter got the better of Juventus in the Coppa Italia final and Supercoppa Italiana. 21 of his 25 goals came in Serie A that season.

Once again, there was no luck on the European front, however. Martinez’s Inter lost to Manchester City in the 2022-23 Champions League final. He repeated his 21-goal tally from the season before, but there was a big shock at the end of the season.

Romelu Lukaku, who returned on a loan deal after initially leaving the club for Chelsea, upset Inter fans and Martinez as he joined fellow Serie A club AS Roma. As a replacement, Inter beat AC Milan for the signing of Marcus Thuram helping Simone Inzaghi keep his two-striker system. 

With the added motivation of captaining the side and Thuram’s strong start to life in Milan, El Toro is enjoying his best start to a season. In a rare substitute appearance against Salernitana, he even became the first Serie A player to net 4 goals coming off the bench.

While Inter fans were left frustrated with how Icardi and Lukaku ended their San Siro chapters, their new skipper showed passion and dedication for their beloved black and blue colors. And, further down the line, he’ll have his chances at surpassing some of the names from our prestigious list. 

  1. Lothar Matthaus

1988 – 1992 (153 games, 53 goals scored)

Major titles: Serie A, UEFA Cup, Ballon d’Or, FIFA Best

Different from what would follow after this in our list, Matthaus only spent four years in Milan. But it was a very successful spell that culminated with individual accolades including the Ballon d’Or in 1990.

With Andreas Brehme, the scorer of the 1990 World Cup final, another Ballon d’Or winner Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Matthaus’ nemesis Jurgen Klinsmann, Inter relied on German internationals in the era Serie A could attract the very best from Europe.

Matthaus scored 40 Serie A goals in four seasons from his central midfield role. His first words were – “We won the league in my first year at Bayern. Now the same thing will happen with Inter”. And, of course, he won the Scudetto in his first season despite red cards in each of his last appearances. 

In 1991, he also helped them to UEFA Cup glory with goals in every round from the last 16 up to the two-legged final against fellow Serie A side AS Roma.

With his decision to return to Munich in 1992, Matthaus cut short his stay in Italy. But it’s one that he looks back in fond memories. In Inter, he was also given the freedom of operating in the No. 10 role as opposed to the more defensive style in Germany.

In a time when Italian clubs attracted superstars – from Napoli’s Maradona to Baggio in Fiorentina, from Michael Laudrup gracing Juventus to Vialli and Mancini at Sampdoria as well as city rivals Milan’s Dutch excellence – Matthaus was Inter’s answer.

  1. Luis Suarez

1961 – 1970 (329 games, 55 goals scored)

Major titles: 3 Serie A, 2 European Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups

Arriving in Italy as a Ballon d’Or winner and the world’s most expensive player, Luis Suarez left his mark with Inter Milan. One of the finest players in the club’s history, his transfer relied on the fact his former coach Helenio Herrera was at the helm of Inter.

Barcelona wanted to keep him, but not too dissimilar to the Catalan club’s current state, they had to let him go for financial reasons. His first season in Inter was plagued with injuries, but he finished second in the Ballon d’Or rankings at the end of the year.

If Matahaus thrived in an advanced role, it was the reverse that worked for Luis Suarez at the time. In Herrera’s famous Grande Inter side, Suarez was the deep-lying playmaker. He was even deployed as a sweeper on his final season at Inter.

The Spanish international used to think he deserved another Ballon d’Or for helping Inter win back-to-back European Cups beating the then-giants Real Madrid and Benfica.

The outspoken player even abruptly left the game when Barcelona fans booed him on his first return to the club in a friendly match.

Decades later, a namesake emerged from Uruguay and even made his name at the original Luis Suarez’s beloved Barcelona. El Pistolero (The Gunman) was even rumored to join Inter from Atletico Madrid. 

  1. Armando Picchi

1960 – 1967 (256 games, 2 goals scored)

Major titles: 3 Serie A, 2 European Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups

And the captain of that Le Grande Inter was Picchi. The central defender led the club to glory both with his leadership qualities and sweeping abilities.

As someone who started his career as a striker, Picchi was a quick defender in an era where most solely survive with their physical attributes. Yet he also possessed that aerial prowess as well as excelling in defensive skills.

Herrera also experimented with his future captain as he shifted from the right-back position to have him the team’s libero. The influence of Bruno Bolchi, the captain when Picchi first joined the club, was quite visible on the young defenders.

And he, then, transformed that wisdom into Giacinto Facchetti after replacing Bolchi, who joined Verona. Picchi had the armband for Inter’s seven major trophies in the 1960s. 

Unfortunately, he only lived two years after retiring from Varese. At the age of 35, a tumor cancer caused his premature death. In 2021, Picchi was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame.

  1. Walter Zenga

1982 – 1994 (473 games, 194 clean sheets)

Major titles: Serie A, 2 UEFA Cup

Goalkeeping is one playing position with which Inter blessed over the years. And Walter Zenga was the first to start this trend back in the 1980s. Yann Sommer currently received the baton with a flawless first half of the season.

Zenga was the product of Inter’s academy. After several loans, he finally joined the first-team as the legendary Ivano Bordon’s substitute in 1982. Zanega was the starting keeper the following season with Bordon’s move to Sampdoria.

Not only for Bordon, who was a goalkeeping coach in Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph, Zenga also deputized for the iconic Dino Zoff in the 1982 World Cup success.

Alongside defenders Giuseppe Bergomi and Riccardo Ferri, the incoming coach Giovanni Trapattoni developed another stingiest defense in Italian football and Inter Milan’s history.

Zenga managed to concede fewer than 20 goals in two seasons at Inter. In 1988/89, Zenga’s Inter won the league title beating Diego Maradona’s Napoli and star-studded AC Milan in the process.

In his time at Inter, he was picked as the best goalkeeper in the world by IFFHS three times. He departed the club to fellow Serie A side Sampdoria after winning his second UEFA Cup in 1994.

  1. Sandro Mazzola

1960 – 1977 (entire career) (566 games, 162 goals scored)

Major titles: 2 European Cup, 4 Serie A, 2 Intercontinental Cup, Serie A top-scorer, European Cup top-scorer

Fourth in both the number of appearances and goals, Mazzola was another one who rose to prominence under the legendary coaching of Herrera. It was the Argentine coach who first gave him the taste of first-team football.

Mazzola had a torrid childhood losing his father Valentino at the age of six. Valentino was expected to represent Italy in the 1950 World Cup before an air disaster killed the entire Torino team at the time.

The attacking midfielder would’ve made his father proud as he went places whilst playing for one club in his entire career. In 1971, he finished second in both Ballon d’Or and European Player of the Year awards after a certain Johan Cruyff.

Back to his first-team debut in 1961, Sandro Mazzola was thrown straight to action along with his peers as Inter fielded a second team as a protest to their game against Juventus replayed.

The 9-1 defeat, where Mazzola scored the only goal from the penalty spot, didn’t deter him one bit. In Herrera’s catenaccio system, Mazzola soon became a force to be reckoned with in the final third of the pitch.

He finished joint top-scorer when Inter won the 1964 European Cup with seven goals. Including four league titles and a back-to-back European success, Mazzola won eight trophies with Inter.

For the last seven years, he was Inter’s captain. After a brief time as sports director, Mazzola turned his attention to the broadcasting world. He worked as a commentator for RAI in Italy’s World Cup triumphs in 1982 and 2006.

  1. Ronaldo

1997 – 2002 (99 games, 59 goals scored)

Major titles: UEFA Cup, Ballon d’Or, Serie A Footballer of the Year

This could be a bit confusing. Ronaldo didn’t even crack the 100-game mark at the club. He never won the league. Had recurring injuries that limited his playing times. And, a few years after his departure, he signed for their city rivals, AC Milan.

But it was a very influential and memorable spell for Inter faithful. It all starts with how they signed him from Barcelona for a world-record fee. A repeat of the Luis Suarez saga.

In his first season, the Brazilian maverick scored 25 Serie A goals. Along with the other South American Gabriel Batistuta, he was the finest striker in Italy. Whether it’s for scoring key goals like in the Derby della Madonnina or striking beautiful ones, Ronaldo had it all in Italy.

It was common to see his teammates pretend to shine his shoe in admiration after he scored. And, for his only trophy in Nerazzurri colors, he scored a trademark goal against Lazio in the final.

A year after the controversial ending to the 1998 World Cup, Ronaldo was appointed as Inter’s new captain. But things were about to turn sore as the striker struggled to shrug off fitness issues.

The first of which happened against Lecce on November 21, 1999. On his return, six months after the first incident, Il Fenomeno left the pitch only after six minutes. A knee injury meant he would miss the entirety of the next season.

He only returned for the final weeks of the 2001-02 season as he scored four in the last four league games. Ronaldo subsequently joined Real Madrid as Inter had no chance of keeping him at the club after a perfect World Cup.

While in Italy, Ronaldo was a big spectacle not only for the fans, but his own teammates in training. He netted 42 goals in just 58 Serie A games before the first serious injury. As such, he was one of the first four to be inducted into the Inter Milan Hall of Fame back in 2018.

  1. Giacinto Facchetti

1960 – 1978 (entire pro career) (637 games, 76 goals scored)

Major titles: 2 European Cups, 4 Serie A, Copa Italia, 2 Intercontinental Cups

We’re back into Hererra’s “Grande Inter” team. Facchetti was another key figure who thrived more with the coach’s visionary change of his playing position. He was a striker with his youth team Trevigliese. But Herrera saw him as a full-back or wing-back.

And, with that role, he became one of the very best in the world. Not only did he create scoring opportunities for his teammates, but he also had 76 goals from the flank. Perhaps his striking instinct wasn’t lost here. 

Besides the footballing ability, the human factor also has a lot of say in him cracking the top three. Only Javier Zanetti and Giuseppe Bergomi played more games for the club, yet he only saw a red card once. He captained both club and country for several years, including leading his nation to their only European Championship in 1968.

One of the first truly attacking fullbacks, Facchetti had it all. He was quick, very adept with the ball, tactically sound and physically able to challenge the best wingers at the time. 

His powerful shot ability had a certain trademark move. Cut it into the center to strike the ball on goal unlike any of the full-backs at the time. The left-footer won nine trophies including the domestic cup in his last season at the club with Herrera’s replacement Eugenio Bersellini.

After spending his entire professional career in Milan, Facchetti worked in different roles at the clubs until he died in 2006 due to pancreatic cancer. Nine years later, the most prolific defender in Serie A history was posthumously inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame. 

  1. Giuseppe Meazza

1924 -1940, 1946 – 1947 (409 games, 284 goals scored)

Major titles: 3 Serie A, Italian Cup, 4x Serie A top-scorer

While San Siro is the most common name for the arena the two Milan clubs share, it’s Giuseppe Meazza for Inter fans. The two-time World Cup winner also played for AC Milan and Juventus, but it was at Inter he started and finished his career.

The prolific goal-scorer is the youngest to have 100 goals in Serie A. Back in 1980, a year after his passing, he was honoured with the naming of the principal stadium in Milan.

Just like Franz Becknbauer, who was very close to joining 1860 Munich before Bayern, Meazza flirted with Milan before they rejected him for his small physique. That was not a problem for Inter as the 14-year-old joined his local club.

He started his professional debut season with a record 31 goals. And he didn’t look back. Meazza helped Inter win the inaugural Serie A season as well as the club’s first Coppa Italia.

In his first spell at Inter, Meazza won the league three times and finished top-scorer on four occasions, including one before Serie A’s foundation. As an Inter player, he played a starring role in Italy’s back-to-back World Cup success in the 1930s.

After winning his last championship in 1939-40, Meazza joined his childhood dream club AC Milan. Injuries held him back since his last years at Inter and he had four clubs In six years before closing the chapter with a player-coach role back in Nerazzurri.

  1. Javier Zanetti

1995 – 2014 (858 games, 21 goals scored)

Major titles: 5 Serie A, Champions League, UEFA Cup, Club World Cup, 4 Coppa Italia 

Meazza has the biggest honour of the stadium calling after him. But we’re not having him at number 1. Shocking? Not exactly. 

The Argentine is Mr. Inter. And it’s not only because of his role as vice-president of the club since his retirement in 2014. Zanetti joined Inter from Banfield at the age of 22 as Massimo Moratti’s first signing.

He is the most capped player for both Inter and Argentina. At Inter, Zanetti won 16 trophies in total including both European titles and five Scudetto. He also went 12 years without being sent off.

From Ottavio Bianchi to Walter Mazzarri, Zanetti played under 19 coaches in Inter. He was also a versatile player as he played in both flanks as well as at the heart of midfield, like the 2010 Champions League final against Bayern Munich in what incidentally was his 700th appearance.

Not one to find his name too often in the scoresheet, his memorable goal came when he won his first trophy with the club at the Parc des Princes – a 3-0 win over Lazio in the UEFA Cup final.

He wore the captain’s armband for more than a decade at Inter. That distinction first came his way when Ronaldo was out injured for an extended period. 

Inter decided to retire his number 4 jersey after Zanetti decided to hang up his boots. His 19-year spell as a player had a little bit of everything. And that’s how you beat the man who had the stadium named after him.

El Tractor is our pick for the all-time best Inter player.

About Tony 9 Articles
I'm Tony, a football writer since 2005, from Warrington in the UK. I support Liverpool and have done since I was a kid. I've previously ran other footy sites, and have a love for the game overall (not just LFC). Find out more about me & my background on the about page, linked to in the site's main navigation.

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