It's been 13 years since the last time Inter played in the Champions League final, when the team coached by Jose Mourinho managed to win the treble and won 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu against Bayern Munich thanks to the brace scored by Diego Milito. That was the night of tears from Jose Mourinho, who a few days later became the new coach of Real Madrid. That was also the night when former Inter owner Massimo Moratti replicated the success of his dad Angelo, who won the club's second-ever Champions League 45 years prior.
Thinking about it now, it seems like much more than 13 years because the whole club has changed. Inter had two different new owners in the last decade and thirteen different coaches as well. Former Inter captain Javier Zanetti is currently the club's vice president. Apart from that, everything is different now. The Nerazzurri managed to achieve this unexpected success despite some financial issues that forced the club to sell some key players over the past years, but they now have the opportunity to play their sixth-ever Champions League final after beating AC Milan in the semifinals.
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That moment in 2010 was a defining one in the history of the club as the Nerazzurri reached their highest success since Italian businessman Massimo Moratti decided to acquire the club in 1994, with the dream to win the Champions League as his father Angelo did. It took some time, a lot of signings, a lot of managers, but it happened. Since 2010, the Moratti era started to decline, as many others, like businessmen and former AC Milan Silvio Berlusconi, who also couldn't afford the top players anymore. Moratti decided to sell the majority shares of the club in 2013 to Indonesian entrepreneur Erik Thohir and completely left his beloved club two years later.
Inter went through some difficult years, needing to rebuild, but with different financial support from the new owners, they had to deal with many issues and couldn't afford the best players anymore. The Thohir era lasted five years, from 2013 to 2018, without winning any trophies. Inter had to sign a settlement agreement with UEFA regarding the finances of the club. The Nerazzurri could not invest as much as before in the transfers of players but also had some roster restrictions that forced sporting director Piero Ausilio (the only one who "survived" from the Moratti era) to find a way every summer to bring new players without spending as much as before. The Nerazzurri appointed coaches like Walter Mazzarri, Roberto Mancini, current AC Milan manager Stefano Pioli, Frank de Boer, but none of them were able to bring Inter back to the highest level.
Despite all the difficulties, in the summer of 2016, Chinese businessman Zhang Jindong acquired the majority of the club but the new project started off with some restraints despite the signings of striker Gabriel Barbosa and midfielder Joao Mario. Coach Roberto Mancini decided to step down right before the season started due to some conflicts with the new owners. Thohir, who at the time was still the president of the club, chose to appoint Frank de Boer as the new head coach. Things didn't work out, de Boer was sacked in a few weeks and the son of the new owner, Steven, became the new and also youngest president of the club as he replaced Thohir, who a few months after sold his minority shares.
The first season of the Zhang era was disappointing, with four different coaches (Mancini, de Boer, Pioli and Stefano Vecchi) but things rapidly changed when in the summer of 2017 the club decided to appoint Luciano Spalletti as the new head coach. The current Serie A champion with Napoli had just ended his second spell at AS Roma and became the new manager of Inter. With Spalletti, things started to be back on track as the club finally qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time since 2011. Spalletti started a new cycle that only lasted two seasons but also created the foundation for the recent success of the club. The manager had to deal with internal issues in the dressing room, like the moment when he chose Samir Handanovic to become the new club's captain, replacing striker Mauro Icardi after the Argentinian player argued with some teammates and the club and more.
More than managers and players, Zhang's best appointment happened in the winter of 2018, when the Nerazzurri appointed Beppe Marotta as the new CEO of the club. Marotta has been a key figure in Italian soccer for multiple clubs, including Sampdoria and most notably Juventus. Under his management, the Bianconeri started the cycle that led Juventus to win nine Serie A titles, also thanks to the scouting work of Fabio Paratici. The experience of Marotta helped the club to recreate the winning mentality that seemed to be gone at the time. In fact, despite finishing in the top four in the second season under Luciano Spalletti, Inter decided to sack the current Napoli manager and replaced him with an old rival, Antonio Conte.
Conte was an icon for Juventus, as he was captain of the club and then the coach who brought them back after the 2006 Calciopoli scandal. After winning with Juventus, Chelsea and also coaching the Italy national team at the Euro 2016, Conte decided to come back to Italian soccer and agreed to terms with Inter. Despite the rivalry, the majority of the Inter fans accepted Conte's appointment due to his winning mentality and work ethic. Some fans were not particularly happy with the former Juventus duo now working at Inter, but then the results spoke for themselves.
Inter signed Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United, despite a late approach made by Juventus to sign the Belgian striker. Conte pushed a lot to make the Lukaku deal happen, and under the Italian manager, Lukaku probably showed his best skills. Inter failed to win in the first season with Conte but reached the 2020 UEFA Europa League final and lost against Sevilla. They finished second in the league, only one point behind Juventus. The summer of 2020 was clearly the moment when Inter fans realized that the winning mentality was finally back, as both the board and coach announced that Inter must win and not celebrate second place or being Europa League runners-up. It took nine more months until Inter could finally lift their first Scudetto in eleven years, the first one after the Moratti era.
However, despite the long-awaited success, Inter fans couldn't celebrate for too long. A few days after Inter's 19th Scudetto, Antonio Conte decided to leave the club as the board told him they were forced to make moves. Inter's project suffered a big blow in 2020 when the pandemic changed the financial plans of many European clubs, forced to deal with lower revenues. When the Zhang family invested back in 2016, Chinese soccer was growing exponentially, with several top players from every part of the world going to play there, with the clear aim to make Chinese soccer one of the most attractive leagues for players. It worked out for a while, but not for too long. Suning, the company owned by Zhang Jindong, also owned Chinese side Jiangsu FC that was dissolved in 2021, three months after winning the league. It seemed over for the Chinese properties that invested in European soccer clubs, but not for Inter. Steven Zhang, in fact, despite the rumors, always denied any story about a possible exit.
After Antonio Conte left in the summer of 2021, Inter sold two key players of the roster in right back Achraf Hakimi to PSG and Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea, and they also lost Christian Eriksen after his heart issues as he couldn't play anymore in the Italian league. With the first two gone, the Nerazzurri could financially breathe. Former Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi was appointed as the new head coach, with the difficult role to replace a manager like Antonio Conte just a few days after he won the Scudetto. Inzaghi immediately brought his optimism and style to his new club, and despite losing the title to city rivals AC Milan in his first season in charge, he managed to win both Supercoppa and Coppa Italia during the 2021-22 season.
The second year at the club was even more successful for Inzaghi. Napoli dominated the league, but Inter were able to qualify for their first Champions League final in thirteen years and will also play the Coppa Italia final next week against Fiorentina at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. They have already won the Supercoppa Italiana after beating AC Milan 3-0 in in January. Only few could imagine, two years ago, that Inter could be at this stage right now.
Simone Inzaghi's team played both Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona in the group stage and got through, then won against both FC Porto and Benfica before they knocked out city rivals AC Milan in one of the most entertaining semifinals in recent years. Not even the most optimistic fan could believe it, but this is the beauty of this sport.
And now, let them dream. There is only one game left.