With Inter looking set to clinch their first Scudetto in over a decade, it is fitting that a man who played a major role in returning the Nerazzurri to the top of Serie A 32 years ago will be celebrating his 60th birthday on Sunday 21 March 2021.
When you think of the name Lothar Matthaus, you instantly associate the German superstar with their World Cup triumph at Italia ‘90 and Bundesliga success with Bayern Munich, yet his four seasons spent in Milan were arguably the best of his career.
One of the biggest moves of the summer in 1988 – arriving alongside countryman Andreas Brehme for €2.2 million – was not only significant due to the size of the fee, but for the fact that the Bavarian giants had lost a midfielder at the peak of his powers.
At 28-years-old, Matthaus was an icon for both club and country, having played more than 60 games for Die Mannschaft and already a three-time league champion with Bayern. Even with the spending power and glamour of Serie A at the time, the move rocked German football.
However, with Inter desperately seeking a first Scudetto since 1979/80 and expectations high as coach Giovanni Trapattoni went into his third year, the burden on the shoulders of a big name foreign signing can often weigh heavily. Not for Matthaus.
On his first appearance at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza he completed the scoring during a comprehensive 4-1 defeat of Pisa and gave an all action display that would become a trademark of his time in Italy.
A traditional box-to-box midfielder, Matthaus’ technical ability and the athleticism, speed and determination in which he would charge around the turf to make a difference in both a defensive and attacking sense is what set him apart.
The tactical acumen of Serie A also allowed the German to evolve his own game, though, becoming more of a subtle creative playmaker against the many well drilled Italian defences and helped striker Aldo Serena become Capocannoniere.
Able to strike powerfully from distance with either foot and a somewhat surprising aerial ability for someone 5”9 tall, he netted 12 times, particularly against Roma, Como and Napoli as they clinched the title.
While Inter failed to hit those heights the following season, especially when exiting the European Cup in the first round after a 2-1 aggregate loss to Malmo, Matthaus was still on the rise. Being named European Footballer of the Year in 1990 in the wake of leading his country to World Cup success.
When he took to the pitch during the 1990/91 campaign, his performances were truly outstanding, as he netted 23 times in 46 games, but Sampdoria and striker Gianluca Vialli would deny him a title and a Capocannoniere crown.
Had Blucerchiati goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca not denied the German from the penalty spot, as the visitors secured a vital win in Milan, he may have lifted another Scudetto with Inter.
The season was not a complete failure, though, as the Nerazzurri went on to lift the 1991 UEFA Cup after defeating Roma 3-0 over two legs and Matthaus would later become the first, and only, German to be named FIFA World Player of the Year.
With coach Trapattoni prized away by Juventus that summer, the following season saw Corrado Orrico oversee one of the worst seasons in Inter’s history and Matthaus struggle to adapt to his overly cautious tactics and would return to Munich in 1992, with an impressive 53 goals in 153 appearances.
Inspirational to those around him through the drive and determination displayed on the pitch, the Nerazzurri failed to clinch a domestic honour until mid-noughties under Roberto Mancini and just goes to show the impact he had during four wonderful years in Milan.