The best ever coaches: Helenio Herrera

5 Sep

The evidence
• Led Internazionale to back-to-back European Cups – and European/South American Cups – in 1964 and 1965.

• Without a trophy since 1954, Inter also lifted the Scudetto three times and the Coppa Italia once under ‘Il Mago’ (the Wizard).

• Won the Spanish Liga four times – twice each with Atlético Madrid and Barcelona before switching to Italy

The expert testimony
“He was light years ahead. He used to train our brains before our legs. When he came to Italy, nobody really knew the names of the coaches – they didn’t really appear in the press, they only worked in the dressing room and on the pitch. He turned things around.”
Sandro Mazzola, former Inter midfielder

1964: Mazzola leads Inter to glory

“He changed Italian football using psychology. TV coverage was not like today’s but he knew everything about our opponents thanks to his network of friends around the world. He was thinking football 24 hours a day and managed to transfer his professionalism to all of his players.”
Giacinto Facchetti, former Inter captain and president

“Like José Mourinho, Herrera was a great communicator even if the latter was more a sergeant major with the team. I rate him among the best coaches of all time – he managed to transform Inter into winners.”
Massimo Moratti, former Inter president

“His method is logic, commitment, analysis and confidence. Nobody in the world admires HH more than HH himself. Nobody in the world loves and appreciates HH more than HH himself. The main thing for me is that he is never fake. Helenio Herrera is always real, even if that is not always to our liking.”
Gianni Brera, pioneering Italian football journalist

©Getty Images

Inter as 1964 European champions

The back story
Born to Spanish immigrant parents in Argentina, Herrera started playing football after his family relocated to Casablanca, spending the bulk of an unremarkable playing career as a defender in France. Moved to Spain to coach, with his successes at Atlético and Barcelona persuading Inter to recruit him in 1961. Herrera brought Barcelona midfielder Luis Suárez with him, explaining: “To build a great Inter side, I needed a great midfielder and Suárez was the best of all.”

The method
Fitness and mental preparation were paramount; Herrera used to speak of games “we had won before we even got off the coach”. His ‘catenaccio’ (door bolt) system involved a midfielder dropping back to act as sweeper (libero) and a rigid man-marking policy, which freed his left-back to attack at will. Armando Picchi emerged as a world-class ‘libero’ under Herrera, while Giacinto Facchetti shone as one of the first attacking left-backs, scoring 75 goals during his Inter career. Herrera’s skilful midfielders and pacy forwards hammered opponents on the counterattack.

1965: Inter’s golden age

The take-home quotes
“I want players to bomb forward at great speed, with no more than three passes to get into the box. If you lose the ball going forward, it’s not a problem – lose it playing across the field and you pay with a goal.”

“If you play for yourself, you play for your opponents; if you play for the team, you play for yourself.”

“If you are scared of trying to do something, just think that if you don’t some idiot will do it instead of you.”

“Class + Preparation + Intelligence + Athleticism = Scudetto”


Jair scores the only goal in Inter’s 1965 final win


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