If one player symbolises the renaissance of lnternazionale then that young man is Nicola Berti. While the media glare focuses on Giovanni Trapattoni, free-scoring Aldo Serena and imported German stars Lothar Matthaus and Andy Brehme, 22-year-old Berti has captured the hearts of Inter's 'tifosi' with his driving midfield play and ability to score vital goals. Not only has Berti played an instrumental part in Inter's first 'scudetto' since 1980, he has also laid claim to a permanent spot in an Italian team among the favourites for next year’s World Cup.
When Berti signed for Inter from Fiorentina last year for £3.6 million he was rated behind the likes of Milan's Carlo Ancelotti and Napoli's Luca Fusi and Massimo Crippa in the pecking order for an Azzurri midfield berth. However, the excellence of Berti's early-season prompted Italy boss Azeglio Vicini to blood him as substitute in a 1-0 defeat by Holland in an autumn friendly in Rome. Five further caps as a starter seem to have established him as successor to the likes of Marco Tardelli, who was one of Berti's boyhood idols.
His strike in Italy's 4-0 defeat of Hungary epitomised his persistence and determination in all zones of the pitch. On receiving Giuseppe Giannini's back-heel, Berti's initial right foot shot was blocked, but on gathering the rebound and struggling to regain his balance, he still managed to lash home a left-foot drive.
A native of the hilltop town of Salsomaggiore in the Emilia Romagna region, the talents of 16-year-old Berti were first spotted by nearby Parma. There, faced with the harsh realities of Italy's Serie C, Nicola Berti learned his trade and helped his side gain promotion under current Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi. Two years alter joining Parma, Berti found himself transferred to Tuscan giants Fiorentina and, to his surprise, was pitched straight into the first team. Berti pays tribute to his former managers at Fiorentina, Agroppi and Bersellini but saves a particular mention for the most recent boss, Sven-Goran Eriksson. Berti considers the Swedish trainer was instrumental in helping him overcome a period of inconsistency, caused in part by the exigencies of military service. Berti says: "I will never be able to thank him enough. With him in charge I could not wait for Sunday to get onto the pitch".
Berti's summer move to Inter and a lucrative four year contract also offered the youngster a bitter taste of the Italian media’s insatiable quest for polemic. The Italian press portrayed Berti as a money-grabbing upstart after it was claimed that Napoli had pulled out of a possible deal due to Berti's excessive financial demands.
Berti says:- "Moggi (Napoli's general manager) came to my house to discuss the move but l asked for some time to consider it. Then Inter made an offer and I simply decided to accept that one. Milan is close to home and Inter were clearly building a young new team with a great coach”.
On the day of his signature at Inter, observers noted the similarity between the well-groomed and stylish Berti and a young Gianni Rivera, the former hero of city neighbours Milan. Yet Berti is no elegant playmaker a'la Rivera. The Inter man's game is an all-action one, full of aggressive tackling and powerful forays into the opposition’s penalty box. Often it seems that Berti bears a more than passing similarly to a whirlwind of arms and legs, but what he lacks in elegance, he more than compensates with his enthusiasm and effectiveness. It is this exuberance, says Berti, which is the cause of his greatest defect - too many bookings and subsequent suspensions. But, he believes he has learned his lesson and is convinced his disciplinary record will improve.
As a hero for approximately half of Milan, do not be too surprised if next year the whole of the country is acclaiming a World Cup victory for Nicola Berti and his Italian colleagues.
This article originally appeared in the August 1989 edition of World Soccer Magazine. You can subscribe for a ridiculously low sum by clicking here.