Appreciating Simone Inzaghi: The younger brother ready to take centre stage

Sibling rivalry is as ubiquitous as siblings themselves and its intensity can remain ferocious deep into adulthood. Nowhere is this truer than in Italy where, with a cultural history stretching from Romulus and Remus to Michael and Fredo Corleone, it has been suggested that fratricide is part of the national character.
It has always seemed to me that things must be particularly hard for siblings who are professional sportsmen. While for the rest of us can always doubt who truly has the best job or the nicest house, the realm of elite sport is too exacting, too ruthlessly analysed to allow for such wooliness. After all, no one seriously debates who the best Neville brother is, and surely only Signora Cannavaro herself could sincerely claim to struggle to choose between Fabio and Paolo.
Spare a thought, then, for Simone Inzaghi, the younger brother of Filippo “Super Pippo” Inzaghi, the highly decorated former Juve and AC Milan striker and World Cup winner. Playing in the same position during the same period, Simone is often only remembered as Pippo’s younger brother, Inzaghinho, or even worse, forgotten altogether. So let us take a moment to appreciate Simone on his own merits.

Starting his career at his local club Piacenza, after various loans to teams in Italy’s lower leagues, Simone’s first Serie A goal came in the 1998-1999 season. Fittingly, it was scored against Lazio, the club that would come to define his career as both a player and coach. A 15-goal haul in that season, the best league goals tally of his career, earned him a transfer to the capital to join Sven Goran-Eriksson’s star-studded Lazio side.

Inzaghi operated primarily on the shoulder of the last man but was capable of scoring outside as well as inside the box. He also had a knack for the acrobatic or improvised when the occasion required. Although Inzaghi was neither lacking physical nor technical ability, in a side containing Alessandro Nesta, Pavel Nedved and Juan-Sebastián Veron, he was not notably gifted either. What he did have in abundance was the most important attribute of any striker: a hunger for goals and the ability to sniff out an opportunity to score.

In addition, he was a vocal and enthusiastic member of the team, endearing himself to a set of fans who are as passionate as any group of supporters anywhere. This allowed him to carve out his own spot in an attack that included, Roberto Mancini, Marcelo Salas and Alen Boksic, making 22 appearances as Lazio completed a historic league and cup double under Eriksson.

While Inzaghi was not Lazio’s top scorer in the league that year (that honour goes to Salas who scored 12 to Inzaghi’s 7), he scored a crucial penalty in the final game of the season against Reggina to settle Biancoceleste’s nerves, before they ultimately ran out 3-0 winners clinching the Scudetto in the process.

He was, however, the club’s top-scorer in all competitions that season with 19 across Serie A, the Coppa Italia and Champions League. Arguably, it was in the Champions League where he really distinguished himself, becoming the only Italian player ever to score four goals in a single Champions League game during a 5-1 demolition of Olympique Marseille. Only Messi and Luiz Adriano have scored more in a single match in the Champions League era.

It is safe to say that Inzaghi (and for that matter Lazio) never again quite hit the heights of that millennial season. The departure of Eriksson half-way through the next season and the arrival of Hernan Crespo saw a sharp drop in Inzaghi’s appearances and goals in the following seasons. Symptomatic of his struggles was a failed cucchiaio penalty, once again against Reggina, which was calmly plucked from the air by ‘keeper Massimo Taibi. The most telling reaction was that of Roberto Mancini, by this time Eriksson’s number two, who can be seen mouthing, “Look at this moron”.

With Eriksson gone, that Lazio side was picked apart piece by piece; Veron went to Manchester United, Nesta to AC Milan and Diego Simeone to Inter. Meanwhile, Inzaghi remained, becoming Lazio’s all-time top scorer in European competition over the following seasons, ultimately scoring 20 goals across the Champions League and UEFA Cup.


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Brotherly rivalry: Simone and Pippo step out together for a clash between Lazio and Juve

In fact, Inzaghi remained at Lazio as a player until 2010, during which time Lazio won two more Coppa Italia, but his influence steadily diminished, even spending two goalless seasons on loan at Sampdoria and then Atalanta. Unsurprisingly, he then moved into Lazio’s coaching set up, taking charge of first the Allievi and then Primavera sides.

In the meantime, Pippo had also finished his playing days and moved into coaching at Milan, starting out with their youth teams. In 2014, following the departure of his former teammate Clarence Seedorf who had managed only half a season on the Rossoneri bench, Pippo was given his chance at the senior job. After a promising start with wins against Lazio and Parma, the season collapsed into the very definition of mediocrity. Milan ended the season in 10th place with 13 wins, 13 draws, 12 losses and a goal difference of six. In June 2015, Milan’s former number 9 was sacked.

As is so often the fate of the younger brother, Simone had to wait a little longer for his chance at the big time. The opportunity could hardly have arrived in a less flattering way. After Lazio sacked Stefano Pioli in April 2016, Simone was made caretaker manager. Despite a respectable, if unspectacular, showing in the seven games that remained of the season, Lazio set out to find a new permanent manager during the summer, courting Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli, while ex-Fiorentina and Italy coach Cesare Prandelli waited in the wings.

Eventually a contract was signed with Bielsa and he was announced as the new coach. But, only two days later, the mercurial Bielsa – supposedly disappointed by the club’s inactivity in the transfer window – pulled out without ever having set foot in Rome. Inzaghi, who in the meantime was on the verge of joining Salernitana in Serie B, was hurriedly recalled and installed as head coach. He would have been forgiven for not feeling hugely wanted by that stage.

The squad Inzaghi inherited was a far cry from the giant he had joined as a player. Despite a good showing under Pioli in 2014-15, finishing third and qualifying for the preliminary rounds of the Champions League, Lazio failed to capitalise the following season. The club’s ultras (like those of Roma) were refusing to attend games due to crowd control measures introduced at the Stadio Olimpico, and as a result, the team was playing in front of an empty stadium.

On the pitch, club legend Miroslav Klose had retired while the club’s best player, Antonio Candreva, had moved to Inter following his impressive showings for Italy in the European Championships.

In spite of this, Inzaghi has managed to build an intense and pragmatic side with real attacking power in the form of Keita Balde and Ciro Immobile. They currently sit fourth in Serie A and while a Champions League place is beyond them, they are guaranteed Europa League football next year. More importantly for Laziali, they have reached the final of the Coppa Italia by beating city rivals Roma 4-3 on aggregate in the Semi-finals. To add insult to injury, Inzaghi’s side also ensured that Francesco Totti’s final Rome derby experience was not a happy one, beating the Giallorossi 3-1 in the second Derby Della Capitale of the domestic campaign.

A victory against Juventus in the Coppa Italia final on Wednesday would be the icing on the cake. It also represents the perfect opportunity for Simone to step out from beneath Pippo’s shadow once and for all,

But the story will not end there, because big bro hasn’t given up yet. Last month, the Venezia FC side coached by Pippo Inzaghi secured top spot in the Lega Pro and with it, promotion to Serie B. One day in the not too distant future, we may well see the Inzaghi Derby take place in Serie A. Of course, if Pippo could somehow find his way to the AS Roma job in the meantime, it would be a classic in every sense.

Words by Ricci Potts: @sttopr
‘A lawyer by trade, Sunderland born and of Ciociarian heritage, Ricci supports Sunderland, Juventus and Italy.’