Nostalgia

Iván Córdoba – The boy from Rionegro that rejected Real Madrid to win Inter hearts

Ivan Cordoba - Inter Milan's silent leader
Credit: Getty Images

In the middle of their pre-game warm-up, the Inter squad, led by captain Javier Zanetti, all break from their exercises and swarm towards the halfway line. Each wearing commemorative shirts with ‘Cordoba #2’ on the back, they stand in a group waiting in turns to go and congratulate the Colombian on a wonderful career.

Such as the magnitude of the man’s career even the opposition queue up to pay their respects.

Iván Córdoba only played about 5 minutes that night in a 4-2 victory against city rivals AC Milan that ensured the Scudetto went to Antonio Conte’s Juventus, who were about to start 8 years of domination in Serie A, but it was that moment that illustrated the love there is for the Colombian.

When the full-time whistle went Zanetti pushed Córdoba towards the Curva Nord where the Nerazzurri faithful sit. The former San Lorenzo man, not one for the attention, reluctantly jogs over and applauds them, before fellow treble winner Estaban Cambiasso ushers a few of the team over. Soon Lucio, Diego Milito, Wesley Sneijder and Maicon are all hurling the Colombian in the air, each throw met with a thunderous roar from the curva.

At 1.73 cm and around 70kg, admittedly, that is nothing to write home about. But it illustrates just how much that this forgotten man meant to the side. A leader on and offer the pitch, athletic, pacey but also an intelligent defender that made up for what he lacked in height with his timing, reading of the game and impressive leap.

Córdoba signed for Inter from Argentine side San Lorenzo in January 2000 for around €16 million, who fought off Spanish giants Real Madrid for his signature. The defender made his breakthrough at his local side Deportivo Rionegro but then earned a move to Atlético Nacional in 1996.

For years, he sat at the heart of the Inter defence alongside the towering Italian, Marco Materazzi or in a back 3 with Fabio Cannavaro. Even the arrival of Walter Samuel from Real Madrid in 2005 didn’t restrict his game time, as then-manager Roberto Mancini often preferred the Colombian next to the Argentine. A silent leader, Córdoba managed 454 appearances for the club and his importance to the side was acknowledge by being awarded the vice-captaincy, he even lifted the Copa Italia in 2005, due to Zanetti’s involvement in the Confederations Cup.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time in his career he tasted success. In 2001 he captained Colombia to Copa America victory on home soil. In a tournament marred with terror threats and player safety issues (it was even cancelled 10 days before it was due to start but reinstated 5 days later), Los Cafeteros did manage to restore some national pride by lifting the trophy for the first time and without conceding a single goal through the tournament. Colombia defeated Mexico 1-0 in the final, Córdoba, no doubt one of the smallest players on the pitch, rose the highest to meet a free-kick and glanced a header expertly past the keeper. The Estadio El Campín erupted. Córdoba raced over to the corner flag and clasped on his back as his teammates piled on. An image no doubt savoured throughout Colombia.

It wasn’t until 2006 when he started truly tasting success with Inter. Juventus were relegated for their part in the Calciopoli scandal and a hefty points deduction handed to cross town rivals Milan meant that the Nerazzurri had a clean run for the Scudetto, their first on-field title since 1989.

The Colombian was known for his grit and determination, and although not a dirty player he occasionally took it too far. He was embroiled in an ugly scene following Inter’s 2007 Champions League quarter final elimination to Valencia, substitute David Navarro was handed a 7 month ban for punching and breaking the nose of Nicolas Burdisso. Córdoba and Julio Cruz chased down the Spaniard and the former launched a flying kick at him. While nothing to celebrated or glorified, a reflection of his passion and commitment for his team and fellow players. Both sides received hefty fines for their part in the brawl and Córdoba was handed a three-game ban.

Even when former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho arrived in 2008 Córdoba remained a mainstay in defence. The Colombian managed 37 appearances all season and even scored 2, as Inter lifted another title but ultimately flattered to deceive in Europe, losing 2-0 to Manchester United in the round of 16, although he won many plaudits for the way he handled an in-form Wayne Rooney over the two legs.

It wasn’t until the following year and the arrival of Lucio that Córdoba finally started to see his minutes decrease somewhat. He still managed a total of 24 games times but only featured twice in the historic Champions League that climaxed in Madrid.

Following his retirement Córdoba joined the Inter backroom staff as team manager, liaising between the player and the board but he left the post in 2014 by mutual consent. In the subsequent years since Inter fans would have yearned for a classy player such as himself. The departure of all the treble hero’s left a void of leadership, class and ability at the club, something Ivan Córdoba had in abundance.

About the author

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Louis Miller

Freelance journalist, part of the goalkeeper union, covering European and mainly Italy football

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