Inter legend Sandro Mazzola discussed his best and worst moments under Helenio Herrera, including his suspicions of doping.
The forward is the son of Valentino Mazzola, who died in the Superga plane crash that wiped out the Grande Torino team, but became a star player in his own right in the 1960s under Coach Herrera.
“Herrera always told us he had to train our minds first and then our legs, but at the same time he made us work to the point of exhaustion,” Mazzola told the Corriere dello Sport.
“He would make us train on Mondays too and order pre-match training camps. He was not a medic, but he drew up very strict diets.
“On match day he would make us eat a rare piece of meat at 10am. I couldn’t do it. So I wouldn’t collapse, I had a deal with an old friend who ran a bakery in Milan. He made me three sandwiches that I’d eat behind Herrera’s back.”
However, the diet also extended to suspicions of doping.
“It’s true. At a certain point I started to feel very dizzy on the pitch. I went to the doctor, who gave me a series of tests and said I had to stop, as I had serious problems and would be out for at least six months.
“Herrera didn’t want that. I don’t know what was going on exactly, but before the game they always gave us a cup of coffee. I don’t know what was in it.
“I remember one of my teammates, Szymaniak, asked if I took simpamine (a mild form of amphetamine, ndr). I didn’t know what it was, but there was something strange going on, that is true.”
Mazzola won four Scudetti at Inter from 1962 to 1971, plus two editions of the European Cup and Intercontinental Cup.
“My happiest moment at Inter was the first European Cup Final against Real Madrid. You must know first that we didn’t have a television, so we’d go to the bar, drink a beer and watch the game.
“All the Finals featured Real Madrid and I adored Alfredo Di Stefano, who everyone said played like my father. During the warm-up, I saw him suddenly in front of me and was absolutely star-struck.
“I just stood there staring until Suarez tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘We’re going to train, are you going to stand here and watch Alfredo?’
“I even scored in the Final that night. I celebrated in a really over the top manner and wouldn’t stop. Suarez, again, said to me: ‘If you don’t stop this lot will score another four against us.’
“The worst moment was in 1967, when in the space of a week we lost both European Cup and Scudetto against Celtic and that damned Mantova game.
“The Mantova defenders said they’d let me score, but I still didn’t manage. Then there was that damned error from Sarti. I know him well and his mistake was one of a goalkeeper who was trying to make the difficult things seem easy. I didn’t believe any of the ugly rumours based on the fact he went to Juventus a year later.
“The truth is we lost those games because it was the end of an era and the club had already made it known they intended to sell some players. We subconsciously thought it was Game Over.
“When I returned home from Mantova with my step-father, I cried throughout the entire car journey.”
Mazzola drew up his ideal all-time XI: “Ghezzi, Burgnich, Jack Charlton, Picchi, Facchetti; Beckenbauer, Rivera, Pelè; Van Basten, Cruyff, Messi. Obviously, the Coach would be Helenio Herrera.”
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