As the Europa League quarter-finals kick-off on Thursday night, two-time winner – albeit as the UEFA Cup – and Inter legend Nicola Berti will probably be blowing out the candles to celebrate his 49th birthday.
Although the likes of Diego Milito, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wesley Sneijder are known worldwide for their part in the Nerazzurri’s dominance between 2005 and 2010, the midfielder starred during an era when they found trophies were much harder to come.
In fact, during a decade in Milan, the club won just five major trophies. The first two arriving during his maiden season, as they secured a Serie A and Coppa Italia double in 1988-89, the last Scudetto until that mid-noughties resurgence.
Rarely lauded for his technical ability, Berti was a player that could adapt to fill any position across midfield, and undertook his duties with a determination and tenacity that marked him out for better things from the start of his career.
After helping an Arrigo Sacchi led Parma to Serie B in 1983-84, the Italian spent two seasons in Emilia-Romagna before moving south to Fiorentina, where he would spend three campaigns behind a certain Roberto Baggio.
Like the Divine Ponytail, his performance in the Viola shirt were soon alerting Italian football heavyweights to Berti’s talents, and in 1988 the Nerazzurri secured his services for €5.5 million.
His performances with Fiorentina also brought international recognition, as he was called up by Azeglio Vicini for his debut against Norway and was eventually handed the iconic no.10 shirt for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
However, it was his former teammate, Baggio, that made a much bigger impact on the tournament, with Berti watching on from the bench during the latter stages.
Four years later, though, the midfielder was instrumental in the Azzurri reaching the final against Brazil, playing in every game. His international career eventually ended in 1995 with 39 caps and three goals.
In comparison, Berti’s impact at Inter was immediate, starting all 32 of his Serie A appearances and scoring an impressive seven goals as they clinched the Scudetto losing just twice – the first a enthralling 4-3 defeat to former side Fiorentina.
While never hitting double figures in a single season, the midfielder could often be relied on to deliver a handful of goals, but more important was his near constant presence in the Nerazzurri engine room.
Unfortunately for Inter, Berti’s consistency on the pitch wasn’t matched by a constant flow of domestic silverware into the trophy cabinet, instead becoming a force to be reckoned with in Europe.
Over the course of eight seasons, Inter reached the UEFA Cup final on four occasions, in an era when the competition held far more prestige than it’s overinflated Europa League incarnation.
With the 1991 final played over two legs, Berti won the penalty from which Lothar Matthaus gave Inter the lead against Roma and then tapped home the vital second at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.
That ultimately secured the trophy, losing the second-leg in the capital by a solitary goal.
Three years later he was at it again, this time scoring the only goal against Austria Salzburg in Vienna in the first-leg, before midfield partner Wim Jonk completed a 2-0 aggregate win in Milan.
Schalke then denied Berti a hat-trick of winners; medals in 1997, and although the club defeated Lazio a year later, the Italian had already headed to pastures new – joining Tottenham Hotspur for free in January 1998.
That sparked an unfortunately mediocre end to his career, although 21 Premier League appearances during 12 months in London brought 5 goals to help the north London side avoid relegation. Berti’s brief time in White Hart Lane ended with a move to Spanish side Deportivo Alaves, although his name is still sung on occasion by Spurs fans as he became an unlikely cult hero.
His La Liga adventure also lasted just a year, despite seeing far more game-time – 51 appearances – before his career ended somewhat with a whimper at Northern Spirit in Australia.
With the Nerazzurri now looking set for ‘nothing more than’ a Europa League place next season, Interisti would certainly wish for someone in Berti’s mould to drive them forward next term.