‘I Signori del Calcio’, exclusive interview with Massimo Moratti

MILAN – Inter’s past, present and future. And much more besides. Honorary president Massimo Moratti spoke about himself, his family and everything he’s been through in an exclusive interview with Giorgio Porrà on Sky Italia’s ‘I Signori del Calcio’ programme, which aired on Sky Sport 1 on Christmas Eve.

It almost seems as if nothing has changed and yet a lot has happened. Do you feel more relief or fear at having turned the page?
"I haven’t explored my feelings about it all in any depth yet. In many ways I feel handing over to someone else was so clearly the right thing to do after all these years; it seemed like something that had to be done. Thohir is relatively intimidated by it all. He likes the environment he’s come into, he realises what a big thing it is – it’s hard to imagine just how big until you’re a part of it – but at the same time he finds it fascinating. Will I keep going to the stadium? I go to the stadium to support my team. At the match you forget what you are as you’re caught up in the moment. But the game is great when you immerse yourself in it completely from the first minute to the last. Lots of times you might keep quiet because you’re scared to death, but it’s great to be able to let yourself go too."

Your father Angelo said that the primary duty of a president is to make people happy. Do you think you succeeded in that mission?
"Inter fans are wonderful for this very reason. They’re very alert, part president, part coach, part snob. And that makes them special fans. That’s why it’s so great to be president of Inter because the fans are difficult, special and grateful, but they never lose control in times of extreme joy or extreme despair. Why you do a certain thing is another matter. My father was an immensely generous person and I think he took over Inter precisely because he wanted to develop this club; it was important to him that it kept growing in stature. It’s more or less the same thing that happened to me and I must say that it’s wrong to assume that others are happy and so you’re automatically happy too but I must also say that perhaps it’s something you should aspire to. It’s certainly one of the best things."

Renowned journalist Michele Serra wrote a while back that, before the successful period you had, Inter fans almost wallowed in their stream of rotten luck. Could you be credited with doing away with that sentiment?
“It was part of the club’s personality, part of a story. When I spoke just now about being snobbish, it’s precisely this feeling different, smarter, more long-suffering. It was a good thing, but also something that had to be overcome. Fortunately we did manage to overcome it. I must admit there was some wallowing involved, and a comical element to it too. I’m not going to get into serious matters now, but there were reasons behind all that bad luck [smiling]…"

To what extent would you say you’ve followed in your father’s footsteps?
"There’s no doubt he gave me a lot for many reasons, because it was such an intense adventure: dad’s experience at Inter was so hands-on that ours was too. He dragged us in, got us involved in all sorts of meetings, no matter how delicate they were. He always made sure we were a part of it. That sort of experience was useful to me years later to understand how to deal with things, although obviously the world has changed totally, in communications, in the management of the players, the agents. These aren’t negative things but they do complicate matters. So I had to deal with them all as I went along and I did it without expecting to control everything, but trying to go through it all with the pleasure and privilege of having such a task to do. My dad was undoubtedly a fantastic person so you can’t compare anything except our blood and our passion."

Do you take over Inter as a therapeutic experience, to grow, but not to do business?
"It might be a business for lots of people, but not for us. What it can be is a school where you understand how business works, because in football everything is so quick and the pace of it all forces you to come up with rapid solutions; you have to know how to do your job and the other things you do at a different pace and with a different level of patience. Your character doesn’t change, if you’re someone who reacts you still react, but you learn to give it a bit more thought, to be a bit more tolerant."

Does it irritate you that people have this image of Moratti as a president who is too kind, playing with his football toy?
"Yes, I did find it irritating, because I’m no mug. But everyone does things according to their personality, and also according to the path that follows the design they have chosen. You might make mistakes. Who knows how many times I’ve made a mistake and hurt someone without realising while going along my path. But then what sort of toy was Inter? No, it wasn’t that at all."

What similarities are there in the relationship between Angelo Moratti and Herrera and the one between Massimo Moratti and Mourinho? Is it true your father sometimes imposed a line-up on Herrera?
"That did happen in two or three meetings between my father and the coach at critical moments. He didn’t like doing it, he didn’t feel he was a coach but it was done as an attempt to shake things up. It happened to me too but it’s not something I’d brag about, just as my father didn’t. The ability of a smart coach is to be able to take on certain advice while understanding the responsibility that a president has, that it’s something the president does to help you. And in any case the coach must have the president’s backing."

Was ‘Il Mago’ really a Wizard? In what ways was he similar to Mourinho?
"What Herrera and Mourinho had very much in common, besides their strong characters, was their work ethic. Herrera knew everything about world football back in the day when there were no computers, just the radio and a little bit of TV. He got up early every morning, maintained contacts with everyone, unless he knew how to fly…"

How was Mourinho able to have such a big impact at Inter?
"What really set him apart was his personality and, as I said, his work ethic, his knowledge of the game, his ability to understand others, his measured way of controlling things, the way he captivated his players. In his own way he was also, in some respects, a humble worker. When I first met him I didn’t think I’d bring him to the club straight away, let’s say it was a safeguard because Mancini had told me he wanted to leave and I just wanted to know if he was free or not. From that day on he set about studying everything. I was 50% between him and Mancini but he had already studied everything about Inter."

Was he really humble? He didn’t exactly look it from the outside…
"I can tell you that I greatly appreciate an act of humility from someone who is not a humble person."

The moment you loved Mourinho the most and the moment you hated him the most? Could we say the two coincided?
"That image of him getting into a Real car on the day of the Champions League final is something you saw more than we did. It was less of an event for us. But looking back it was right, given that he didn’t want to stay any longer. We were happy that he’d given us back that blessed European Cup and that he could then try something new on a personal level. I didn’t hate him at all."

Did you like his handcuffs gesture?
"If I say I liked it, they’ll accuse me of being uncivilised, but that’s the person he is, he’s an actor. You have to take it remembering the person he is."

Was Ronaldo your favourite player? What special memories do you have of him?
"If we leave aside the football memories – we all remember the amazing things he did on the pitch – I’d say the drama of his injury in Rome when he broke his knee. I always thought he was very quick at understanding other people’s feelings, both mine and his team-mates’. I was fond of him because he was generous, he shared his feelings. Not that I ever had a very close relationship with the players. You need to have a photo of the person standing in front of you, and Ronaldo was one of those who made the strongest imprint in your memory."

He didn’t exactly excel for his gratitude by going to play elsewhere though, did he?
"I find it very amusing that I’m supposed to always feel betrayed by the players who leave. It’s not that I don’t feel betrayed because it’s nothing serious, but because in football it’s not a question of betrayal. Player have the ambition to move on in their career. They’ve always shown me their gratitude."

What about the star you never managed to get? Your infatuation with Cantona suggests you like two types of players, both the impeccably behaved and the livewires.
"You’re attracted by world-class players and Cantona was one of those. Discipline is clearly important at a club, but you’re always attracted by a slightly crazy character who you know sooner or later will come up with something new. That’s true in any profession and it’s no different in football."

Is it true that you tried to sign Leo Messi? Was that exaggerated by the press or were we close?
"It wasn’t close. He hadn’t even made his Barcelona debut. I’d seen him in an Under-20 or Under-18 match and asked about him. But Barcelona had helped the lad a great deal in his development and with his health so it didn’t seem very nice to go and make official requests. His father went to tell Barcelona that he’d received offers and that maybe it was worth them giving him a contract. And that’s where Messi’s career began."

Is it true you were about to sign Ortega when you signed Zanetti?
"No, I wasn’t about to sign Ortega. I think I’d been sent this video-cassette so I could run my eye over Ortega but the player I was amazed by was Zanetti. I thought he looked a special player, but I never have imagined he could go on to achieve everything he has, performing as consistently as he has."

Zanetti surprised a few people by saying something not positive about one of his coaches, Tardelli, in his biography.
"It surprised me too but clearly the two of them didn’t get along."

On the subject of infatuations, do you remember when Valdano was talking in a conference about the relationship between football and politics and you upped and left, then when asked why, you said you’d been so captivated by his speech and his presence that you’d offer him a contract straight away?
"I don’t remember if that was exactly how it went but in life and not only football you’re always won over by those who have imagination, courage and the ability to go a bit further with their minds. That goes for footballers too. I like people who do things like that."

If I say Juventus, what’s the first image or event that comes to mind? Was your decision to take a step back from the game partly due to what happened in Calciopoli?
"No, if anything it’s the fight that keeps you alive and pushes you on. At the moment we have a good relationship with Juventus and we’ve always had an excellent relationship with the Agnelli family. Then there was, let’s say, an interval when other people were involved which worsened relations. Of course there’s a natural rivalry between Inter and Juve and everyone knows that, but I didn’t step down for the reason you suggested. I just think that after 18 years it’s right to leave."

What about AC Milan? What sort of relationship have you built up with Berlusconi over the years?
"We haven’t had much opportunity to meet. I’ve spoken to him a few times, he’s always kind and friendly with me. Parallel lives with two teams in the same city and naturally you want to always do better than the other team."

It’s all change at AC Milan at the moment. What do you make of that?
"I think children are always a bit jealous of people that their fathers place a lot of trust in. Did that happen to me? No, no. Barbara will want to show she’s good at her job. Galliani will stay on to lend her a hand."

Can you explain your obsession with Recoba? What was it that most people missed that you saw in him?
"I became completely besotted with him unfortunately… [smiling]. I think he’s a phenomenal player, seriously. For me he’s the best player we ever signed."

Handing over Inter was almost like handing over a piece of your heart. What was it that you saw in Thohir?
"Firstly I was convinced by the interest he expressed in doing this which shows you how much desire and passion he has. Then I must say he’s a very nice person in every respect. Very discreet, reserved, respectful."

What was your first recommendation?
"I can’t remember anything in particular but I don’t like to give any hard and fast recommendations because as I said you run a club based on your own feelings. You can share your experience but not in an instructive way."

Thohir has come in and wasted no time in letting people know what he wants, talking about the Bundesliga model and young players. Are the conditions there to start thinking big again?
"No one ever stopped thinking big. There may be a few mishaps along the way but that’s because you’re trying to do something new. He’s holding a tool with which he can achieve certain things, all the objectives he has are sacrosanct and I think not only obvious but also necessary. I believe he has the ability, the patience and the care to obtain excellent results. His dedication is reassuring too because Thohir is another tremendous worker."

Is it a ‘farewell’ or a ‘see you again’? If things don’t go as hoped, will you return?
"It’s a ciao, not a farewell. You can’t have one foot on one side and one on the other, you have to think seriously about what you can do for the good of this team and this club. I have no plans or intention to interfere in something that I chose to step away from."

What did your father do when he left Inter?
"For a start he was just as much a fan as I am. You do start feeling less responsibility, because it’s one thing being a fan and another being 100% responsible. But you care about the team, you know the players and you know the fans so it doesn’t change much when you go to see a game. You certainly feel less involved though."

Is your wife pleased that you decided to sell Inter?
"No, because over the years she bought into the dynamics of it, the beauty of it all, on a level that went beyond just the game of football itself. Now she’s sorry."

On the subject of social work, do you still believe football can be used as a tool to inspire cultural revolution?
"Not a cultural revolution but it is a tool that can reach out into any corner of the world. Everyone watches football all over the globe, everyone knows who the stars of football are and that popularity can be a huge help. I think Mandela saw it a bit like that. It honestly can be something that brings with it a wave of fresh air, new ideas and some good things. That’s not to say that everything football has to offer is good. That’s something I get very angry about that: exploiting sport for personal gain is a disgraceful exercise precisely because people go into it with such open feelings."