When you think of Inter vs. Juventus, so many fantastic images and matches spring to mind. So many players too. And there was one man in particular who was a constant thorn in the Bianconeri’s side. Not that he wasn’t already deadly, but he seemed to become even more so against the team from Turin. Against Juve, Julio Ricardo Cruz, otherwise known as ‘El Jardinero’ scored seven goals in an Inter shirt. Cruz is the star of the Matchday Programme for Sunday’s match, with the Argentine giving the following interview in the build-up to it:
Julio, Inter vs. Juventus is on the horizon. What are the first things that spring to mind when you think of this match?
“The days leading up to Inter vs. Juventus fixtures were always full of adrenaline. The prospect of facing a big challenge at the weekend was great, and the Nerazzurri fans never failed to make themselves heard. We would encounter them on the street, and they did nothing but cheer us on.”
You did a lot of celebrating in fixtures against Juventus!
“My story against Juventus began in 1996, but it was a disappointing start: in the Intercontinental Cup in Yokohama, it finished River Plate 0-1 Juventus, with Del Piero getting on the scoresheet. However, perhaps subconsciously, subsequent matches against Juventus brought out the best in me. Against Juve, I bagged a brace for Feyenoord, a goal for Bologna and seven for Inter. It was if I had extra motivation. When I arrived at Inter, I grasped the true significance of the Derby d’Italia.”
Is there a match in particular that you’ll never be able to forget?
“I scored seven goals against Juve, but particularly unforgettable are the ones I scored in that 3-1 victory in Turin when things weren’t going so well for us. Furthermore, Inter hadn’t won at the Stadio delle Alpi in ten years. I still have all the moments of that perfect evening in my mind: it’s one which I often look back on with my friends Almeyda, Adani and Toldo. My free kick into the top corner of Buffon’s goal surprised everyone. It was right at the edge of the box, so it was too close to send it over the wall and on target. Therefore, I aimed for the goalkeeper’s side and managed to score.”
It was an unforgettable evening thanks to your brace…
“The second goal was made possible thanks to a great run by Javier Zanetti. He set me up with a magnificent assist and I shot with my right foot, but Buffon made a save. However, with the ball having rebounded out, I held my nerve, taking a touch and firing into the net with my left. A magnificent win crowned by Oba’s finish.”
Zanetti provided an assist that evening, but there were others who helped bring out the best in you against Juventus…
“Among those who set me up to score against Juventus during my career are Zé Maria, Pelé and Cesar. These goals came on wonderful nights for Inter. Zé Maria used to play great balls into the box and I managed to get my head to one and find the net in Turin. It was decisive too: we won 1-0. A few days ago, I talked to a young lad about this goal: he had seen old videos of me in action and wanted to know my secrets. In that instance, I did well to position myself in such a way that the defender wasn’t able to intervene and make contact with the ball with the right part of my head.”
You were a complete striker who was also dangerous from dead-ball situations…
“Some people may have been surprised by my free kick in that 3-1 victory, but it wasn’t the first time I’d done that. A few weeks before, I’d scored a perfect one against Ancona at San Siro from much further out. I always worked on dead-ball situations a lot. Inter at some true experts in this regard, Recoba for example. But my teacher was Giuseppe Signori, who I played with at Bologna. Through him, I improved a lot. He taught me the tricks he used when he took penalties. He used to take a very short run-up and said to me: ‘Julio, you need to watch the goalkeeper’s knees: as soon as you see him move, hit the ball the other way’.”
What was your secret?
“Left-footed goals weren’t new to me. I had a great work ethic and knew that I needed to keep pushing every day in order to improve. As a child, my father used to make me kick the ball with my left foot, and I’d often spend entire training sessions dribbling with only my left. Playing in Italy allowed me to improve greatly. Guidolin, for example, taught me how I could be the first line of defence. By pressing in a targeted way, I was able to help my teammates and really help the team.”
You decided a lot of matches after coming off the bench…
“I often scored after coming off the bench, that’s true. I trained to ensure that I was always ready. I played with a lot of strong attackers at Inter: Vieri, Adriano, Kallon, Recoba, Adriano, Martins, Crespo, Ibrahimovic, Balotelli… I needed to do well when I got the chance, there were so many of us that there was the risk of ending up in the stands. Therefore, my mission was to always give my best.”
Which Inter shirt will you never forget?
“After scoring a goal against Juventus, I once took off my shirt to celebrate: this wasn’t something I did often. I’ve always loved the Inter shirt and colours, black and blue are the colours of the sky and the night. However, the one I treasure the most is the centenary shirt, the magnificent white one with the red cross. I don’t have a lot of shirts from other players, I don’t know why but it wasn’t a common practice to exchange them when I played. I do have a few, however, including from the most prestigious opponents like Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Del Piero.”