While the thought of Daniele Padelli starting for Inter in another Derby della Madonnina is enough to strike fear into most Interisti, the same could be said whoever was to stand in for regular custodian Samir Handanovic.
Although the ex-Torino goalkeeper was arguably at fault for both AC Milan’s goals at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Sunday night, and it was clear that the absence of the Nerazzurri No.1 played a huge part in their underwhelming first-half performance.
For nearly a decade the 35-year-old has brought an air of calm to the defence, but facing a Rossoneri side with little to lose and Inter finally a title contender again, the team appeared to have developed a cautiousness rarely seen this term.
As Handanovic’s teammates walked off the pitch at half-time looking dazed and confused, many inside the stadium would have been reflecting on the importance of the three-time Serie A goalkeeper of the year, who has so rarely received the plaudits he deserves.
Since arriving for €19.4 million from Udinese in 2012, the Slovenian is one of the few that could claim legendary status during a period of on-pitch mediocrity, with former Inter president Massimo Moratti once reflecting that he was one of few players that could have played in the historic treble side.
Therefore, it is amazing to think that someone who is their country’s second-most capped player and likely to break Gianluca Pagliuca’s record of 24 penalty saves in the top-flight, could end his time on the peninsula without a single Scudetto to his name.
While the football romantics amongst us would love fellow goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to finally lift the Champions League, the desire for Handanovic to lift a trophy of any kind as Nerazzurri captain grows stronger with each passing year.
It is a sentiment not purely built during the veteran’s time in Milan, but also his contribution to an Udinese side that massively overachieved, with him playing a starring role as the Zebrette reached Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
Such was his contribution to the club that Handanovic was barely into his first season away from Udine when he reached 200 Serie A appearances, yet it wasn’t until 2018/19 that he tasted Champions League football again affter enduring Inter’s darkest years. That more the fault of his club than his own contributions.
That he remained loyal to the Inter cause during that time is admirable, given reported approaches from the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United; moves which would have almost guaranteed a medal around his neck.
After matching young rival Alisson Becker, then of Roma, for Serie A clean sheets in 2017/18, the Brazilian moved was prized away from Italy for €75 million, whereas Handanovic’s age was the only statistic by then causing potential suitors to look elsewhere.
With Inter still fighting on three fronts both at home and abroad, there are still plenty of opportunities for the Nerazzurri to secure silverware this season and he is some way from hanging up his gloves, but what a fitting tribute a Scudetto would be for his contribution to Italian football.