MILAN – When Gigi Simoni is talked about, there’s a sense of calm in the air. It’s the feeling that he transmitted on the pitch, during training sessions and in life. He was a kind person, a good man and an excellent coach. For a generation of players, he was a father figure, someone to look up to. That 1997/98 Inter side is recognised as “Simoni’s team”. And it’s one which one which has remained in the hearts of everyone thanks to the UEFA Cup triumph in Paris.
“You’re all the same here, except one.” The phrase that he used to present himself in the summer of 1997 could have caused friction. But the ‘one’ he was referring to was Ronaldo, and the group appreciated the Coach’s frankness in the presence of the Phenomenon. “He got straight to the point immediately and told us that we all had to prove ourselves, but that comment about Ronaldo cut through any awkwardness and won us over in a second.” The words of Francesco Moriero, saddened to hear that Simoni is no longer with us. Moriero continued: “That was a team full of talent, but, above all, it was a united group with players who are still all friends 25 years on.
“I remember when we played in Piacenza. Simoni reproached me for not passing the ball. He was about to replace me but I moved to the left flank. I then got the ball, left the opposition chasing shadows and scored. Then I headed to the dugout and said: ‘See Coach? How about that for a pass?’ We had a good laugh about it.
“He understood you on a human level and your characteristics as a player, he gave everyone an opportunity and made all of us feel important. We enjoyed many unforgettable moments, like the two goals that Ronaldo had promised him before our UEFA Cup fixture in Moscow. Thanks to Gigi, we all became Interisti that year. We can’t remember a time when he lost his patience. He was always polite to referees, a real gentleman.”
Fabio Galante also echoed the same sentiments: “The relationship between the team and Simoni was extraordinarily close, nobody ever clashed with him. He had this great ability to manage the group in the best possible way, remaining humble in the process. For us, he really was like a father figure. He was calm and always able to put you at ease.”
An example of this was the night before Inter vs. Real Madrid: “We were away together, there were long faces and the air was filled with tension. Gigi came along and said: ‘Guys, why are you all worrying? It’s not like we have to play Real Madrid…’ Everyone started laughing.”
Beppe Bergomi remembered how he earned himself a spot at the ’98 World Cup, the fourth of his career, thanks to Gigi Simoni. Francesco Colonnese, meanwhile, used the following words to describe him: “Cheerful, humble, good-natured and pure.”
And then there’s Ronaldo, a player who was at the top of his game in 1997/98. There’s a special link that ties Inter, the Brazilian and the Coach from Crevalcore together. On his Instagram account, the Phenomenon said goodbye to Gigi with words that say it all: “Gigi Simoni wasn’t just a coach to me. When I think of him today, I think of a wise and good man who didn’t order you to do things but explained why those things were important. I think of a teacher, like in that photo we took at Christmas. He was the conductor, we were the orchestra. This is how I remember him, with that smile, that voice which was always calm, his precious advice. We could have and should have won more. But we won together, something he always urged us to do. Thank you, Coach. You taught me more than you could ever imagine.”