Football Features

Combined XI: Inter Milan’s best South American stars of the 21st Century

By Squawka News

Combined XI: Inter Milan's best South American stars of the 21st Century

Published: 18:30, 23 July 2021 | Updated: 18:51, 10 September 2021

Ever since the legendary Argentine manager Helenio Herrera steered Internazionale to their first two European Cups in the 1960s, the historic Italian club has had an almost inextricable link to South America.

Inter had to wait 35 long years to add another European Cup to their trophy cabinet and when it was achieved in 2010 there was a heavy South American influence; six of Jose Mourinho‘s starting XI hailed from the region, while the Argentine striker Diego Milito scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich.

Fast forward to the present day and there remains a strong South American contingent in the squad with two Chileans, an Argentine and a Uruguayan, all vying for a place in Simone Inzaghi’s side for the new season. The list of South American stars to represent Inter in the past is a lengthy one, particularly since the turn of the century as the San Siro has played host to some of the finest ever to play the game.

So without further ado, here is Inter’s ultimate South American combined XI since 2000. A quite ridiculous side, we’re sure you’ll agree.

Goalkeeper: Julio Cesar

Nationality: Brazilian

International apps: 87

Inter honours: Serie A (x5), Coppa Italia (x3), Champions League

Inter apps: 300

Julio Cesar’s move to Inter from Flamengo in 2005 was far from plain-sailing. As the club already had the maximum number of non-EU players in their squad, Cesar had to be loaned to Chievo for half a season before eventually joining his parent club six months later, after no appearances in Verona.

Despite his delayed arrival, Cesar certainly made up for lost time, quickly establishing himself as the club’s first-choice shot-stopper – a position he retained throughout his seven-year stint in Milan. He last played for boyhood club Flamengo.

Right Back: Maicon

Nationality: Brazilian

International apps: 76

Inter honours: Serie A (x4), Coppa Italia (x2), Champions League

Inter apps: 236

A buccaneering defender in the traditional Brazilian full-back mould, Maicon was another cost-effective South American purchase who enjoyed great success in the famous blue and black stripes.

At his peak, Maicon was the finest right-back in world football – a statement supported by the fact he kept Dani Alves out of the Brazil squad – and aside from his defensive qualities, he also chipped in with 20 goals for the club.

After a spell in Brazil, Maicon is still playing at the age of 40, albeit for Tre Penne in San Marino.

Centre Back: Lucio

Nationality: Brazilian

International apps: 105

Inter honours: Serie A, Coppa Italia (x2), Champions League

Inter apps: 136

Mourinho has made some outstanding signings during his hugely successful managerial career but few can match his purchase of Lucio from Bayern Munich in 2009.

The uncompromising defender – who also had a penchant for making the odd foray into the opposition’s half – struck up a brilliant understanding with Walter Samuel in the heart of defence and played an integral role as Inter won a historic treble in his maiden campaign.

Centre Back: Walter Samuel

Nationality: Argentinian

International apps: 56

Inter honours: Serie A (x5), Coppa Italia (x3), Champions League

Inter apps: 236

The other half of Mourinho‘s water-tight defensive duo, Walter Samuel moved to Inter in 2005 after struggling to cope with the burden placed on the back five at Real Madrid, during their peak Galactico years.

In his first five years at the San Siro, Samuel won Serie A each season (Juventus’ title in 2005-06 was given to Inter following their relegation) and in total, he spent nine successful years in Milan, before seeing out his career with a two-year spell at FC Basel in Switzerland.

Left Back: Ivan Cordoba

Nationality: Colombian

International apps: 73

Inter honours: Serie A (x5), Coppa Italia (x4), Champions League

Inter apps: 455

A diminutive defender who was comfortable playing across the back four, Ivan Cordoba was known for possessing an outrageous leap despite standing at a relatively small 5’8.

Cordoba’s entire European career was spent at Inter where he eventually retired in 2012 after 12 years of distinguished service. Inter’s long-serving No.2 also has the honour of being the only man in history to captain the Colombian national team to a major trophy – the 2001 Copa America.

Defensive Midfield: Javier Zanetti

Nationality: Argentinian

International apps: 143

Inter honours: Serie A (x5), Coppa Italia (x4), Champions League, UEFA Cup

Inter apps: 858 (club record)

After 19 years, a club-record 858 appearances, 21 goals, and 11 major trophies, Javier Zanetti finally called time on his glittering career at Inter in 2014 at the grand old age of 41 and as a mark of respect his No.4 jersey was retired soon after.

Not only was Zanetti an exemplary professional, he also reinvented himself as a player impressively as his career wore on, transforming from a marauding wing-back into a cultured defensive midfielder and even makeshift centre back.

Such is the esteem with which he is held by the club, Zanetti, who now acts as their Vice-President, probably has a job for life.

Centre Midfield: Esteban Cambiasso

Nationality: Argentinian

International apps: 52

Inter honours: Serie A (x5), Coppa Italia (x4), Champions League

Inter apps: 420

Another Argentine who became part of the furniture at Inter. Esteban Cambiasso moved to Italy on a free transfer following four relatively unfulfilling seasons with Real Madrid, where he was predominantly used as a back-up.

At Inter, though, he was an undisputed regular and increasingly valued member of the side during their success-laden years under Roberto Mancini and later Mourinho.

Just like his compatriot Samuel, Cambiasso departed in 2014, spending a season with Leicester City before moving on to Olympiacos in 2015.

Centre Midfield: Juan Sebastian Veron

Nationality: Argentinian

International apps: 73

Inter honours: Serie A, Coppa Italia (x2)

Inter apps: 74

Despite never actually being contracted to Inter, Juan Sebastian Veron enjoyed a reputation-restoring spell there following three difficult years in England with Manchester United and Chelsea.

Veron or ‘The Little Witch’ as he was often referred to, helped Inter win back-to-back Italian Cups and also got his hands on a Scudetto winners medal before returning home to Argentina to play for Estudiantes.

Attacking Midfield: Alvaro Recoba

Nationality: Uruguayan

International apps: 69

Inter honours: Serie A (x2), Coppa Italia (x2), UEFA Cup

Inter apps: 260

A supreme talent whose career was unfortunately compromised by injury problems and inconsistent form, Alvaro Recoba perhaps didn’t achieve as much as expected of him but he certainly provided Inter fans with plenty of moments of magic during his 11-year spell.

Recoba became renowned for scoring spectacular long-range thunderbolts – both from open play and free-kicks, which were to become his trademark – with his extra-special left-foot. Despite his numerous injury problems, Recoba managed to keep going until 2015 when he retired after playing for Nacional.

Striker: Ronaldo

Nationality: Brazilian

International apps: 98

Inter honours: UEFA Cup

Inter apps: 99

Nicknamed ‘Il Fenomeno’, Inter saw fit to obliterate the world transfer record in 1997 to sign Ronaldo for £19.5m, who at that point was unquestionably the hottest property in world football, after scoring 47 goals in only 49 games for Barcelona.

Ronaldo maintained the rich vein of form he displayed in Catalunya in Milan too, netting 34 goals in his first season before disaster struck at the 1998 World Cup. Injuries destroyed the remainder of his time at the club, but he still managed a respectable 59 goals in 99 matches prior to his 2002 move to Real Madrid.

Striker: Diego Milito

Nationality: Argentinian

International apps: 25

Inter honours: Serie A, Coppa Italia (x2), Champions League

Inter apps: 171

A man who warrants selection in this team for those two goals against Bayern Munich alone. Diego Milito’s brace against the Bavarians handed Inter a 2-0 win in the Champions League final to end a 35-year wait to land European football’s biggest prize.

The 2009-10 season was undoubtedly Milito’s best in an Inter shirt, although he enjoyed another prolific campaign in 2011-12 when he struck 24 league goals. Following five years at the club, he re-joined Racing Club in Argentina where he retired in 2016.

Honourable mentions: Ivan Zamorano, Matias Almeyda, Hernan Crespo, Gabriel Batistuta, Kily Gonzalez, Nicolas Burdisso, Santiago Solari, David Pizarro, Maxwell, Julio Cruz, Adriano, Coutinho, Fredy Guarin, Hernanes, Mauro Icardi, Miranda, Lautaro Martínez, Diego Godín.