Inter vs Juventus: The Rivalry at the Heart of Italian Football

May 29, 2020, 4:14 PM GMT+1

The Derby d'Italia is one of 90min's 50 Greatest Derbies in the World

It was a weird and surreal experience to see no-one in the stands for the most recent clash between Inter and Juventus back in March.

There were no noisy cheers when Aaron Ramsey and Paulo Dybala scored for I Bianconeri at the Allianz Stadium, nor were there any boos when the away side's Daniele Padelli was sent off for dissent - effectively killing off hopes of a comeback for Antonio Conte's men. There was just silence, save for the grunts and shouted directions from both sets of coaching staff.

Granted, it was played behind closed-doors after certain regions of Italy had been put in lockdown due to the coronavirus. But it was still a jarring sight considering the fiery, passionate atmosphere that the Derby d'Italia has always brought throughout its history.

The lack of crowd made for a weird experience in watching the latest Derby D'Italia in March
The lack of crowd made for a weird experience in watching the latest Derby D'Italia in March | VINCENZO PINTO/Getty Images

When both sides were founded over a century ago respectively, there was no animosity between the two teams. And for just over 50 years, there was no reason for a rivalry to form, even as they began to challenge each other for the Scudetto on a regular basis as time went on.

But this all changed in 1961. With both teams in contention to win the title that season, their title-deciding clash was attended by so many fans, to the extent that the stands were filled beyond their capacity. As a result, supporters of La Vecchia Signora ended up invading the field, causing the game to be abandoned.

Consequently, Inter were awarded a 2-0 victory, but this was overturned after an appeal from their counterparts, with a replay to be contested instead. Furious, the Milanese side would accuse the Italian football authorities of bias and favouritism, given that Juve chairman Umberto Agnelli was also the president of the country's football federation at the time.

The Nerazzurri's president Angelo Moratti then demanded his coach Helenio Herrera to play his youth team in protest, convinced that everything was orchestrated to hand the Turin club the title. As a result, Juventus would thrash their opponents 9-1 - and proceed to win the league that season. It remains the biggest win in the team's history and marks the birth of the rivalry between the two sides.

Both teams would go on to swap title triumphs in the years that followed, leading to renowned Italian journalist Gianni Brera giving the fixture its enduring name of 'Derby d'Italia' in 1967. Yet the emergence of Arrigo Sacchi's Milan team in the 1980s would soon end their era of collective dominance, as neither were able to challenge the Rossoneri.

Still, the encounters remained tense and passionate, as the two sides continued to push for success at the other's expense. It was shown particularly in the 1998 Serie A clash, where referee Piero Ceccarini chose to award the Turin side a penalty, seconds after having denied their opponents their own spot-kick for an obvious foul on Ronaldo.

Del Piero saw his effort saved.

The game proved so controversial that members of Italy's parliament ended up arguing over the game days later. For Inter fans, it was a clear example of the bias shown by the football authorities towards I Bianconeri.

And their feelings were justified years later, when the Calciopoli scandal came out publicly that revealed how Juve officials were able to influence referee appointments for their games.

The Turin club were not only relegated to Serie B, but were also stripped of their 2005/06 scudetto, which was then awarded to the second-placed Nerazzurri.

But Inter wouldn't stop there, capitalising on their rivals' fall by swooping in to sign stars Zlatan Ibrahimović and Patrick Vieira for a combined €35m - which was far less than their true value.

While La Vecchia Signora initially took their punishment with few complaints, former officials have since tried to pin the blame on their rivals, with ex-general manager Luciano Moggi afterwards blaming the Milan club for orchestrating the wire-tapping offences and claiming it was a deliberate act to hurt their rivals - who have denied any part in the scandal.

Not that it's affected Juventus' on-field fortunes, who have since dominated both this fixture and Serie A after their return to the top-flight. It's coincided with La Beneamata's drop-off in terms of success, as the team have failed to seriously compete at the top of the table - their last league title coming in 2010.

La Vecchia Signora has had plenty to celebrate since their return to Serie A | MARCO BERTORELLO/Getty Images

Yet recent changes at San Siro, including the installation of former Juve mastermind Conte as head coach, and the acquisition of the club by the Suning Holdings Group, suggest that the Milan side aren't far away from becoming a serious challenger once more.

And off-field relations between the teams appear to have improved from before, with their leaders now allied by the desire to make the Italian game more marketable and popular globally, given the Premier League's long-held dominance of the sport.

It's shown in Inter's 2018 hiring of Giuseppe Marotta as CEO, who previously held the same role at the Allianz Stadium. The 63-year-old was a key architect in building the current Juventus side, including the low-cost signings of Paul Pogba and Andrea Pirlo, and the Turin side's lack of protest suggests that they too want to see the Nerazzurri back at the top to spark interest in the league.

Inter have their rivals firmly in their sights as they look to rise back to the top of Serie A | MARCO BERTORELLO/Getty Images

Still, the 2-0 victory in March for La Vecchia Signora emphasises that there is still work to be done for Inter to fully catch up to their rivals. And it could be years before we see a fully-fledged title battle between the two teams, with Conte and Marotta needing time to see their vision come to life.

But the impending return of the rivalry will only benefit Italian football. Serie A has arguably been at its best when these clubs go head-to-head in search of titles and bragging rights. And the game has never lacked for passion at all - all fans have been asking for is equal quality.

So once Inter get back to their best, it could usher in an exciting era for the Derby d'Italia.