There is something cosmic in tracing the journeys of the Inzaghi brothers. It’s as though the universe is doing its best to redress an imbalance in the family bloodline.
As players, there was no doubt who won more hearts and minds. Filippo scored over 300 goals between 1991 and 2012, finishing his career with a strike rate just south of that golden one-in-two ratio. Simone was no footballing pauper; he won seven trophies with Lazio – including a Scudetto in 2000 – but in terms of innate ability he was never talked about in the same breath as his older brother.
But now, as the pair establish themselves in a new discipline, the hourglass has been flipped, and the sands are beginning to fall in favour of the younger son of San Nicola.
At all levels, football is monopolised by families. Season tickets pass from generation to generation, and so too does whichever chromosome is responsible for being able to ride a challenge or time a run to atomic clock precision. In one corner of Southern Europe, however, blood seems to run even thicker.
Italian football is disproportionately dominated by these ancestral dynasties. Banal pluralisation of surnames is rife among modern pundits, but Italy is the one place where they can say “you’ve got your Maldinis, your Cannavaros, your Baresis”, and remain factually accurate. There is something poignant about this heritage, the rivalries it spawns and the bonds it strengthens.
One can’t help but consider family in relation to each other. There is always a perceived undercurrent of one-upmanship, especially between brothers. But for Filippo (Pippo) and Simone, any whispers of a fraternal tug of war are media-manufactured.
In their early lives, the two walked the same path, though Simone, three years Pippo’s junior, had to lengthen his stride to keep up. Both grew up in San Nicola in northern Italy, playing football together, studying together. Their mother, Marina, had hoped both would become doctors. In the end, both earned degrees in accountancy.
After coming through the youth system with Serie B Piacenza, it was only in 1995 that their stories diverged. Pippo, impressing after a couple of fruitful loan stretch and a 15-goal season with promotion-winning Piacenza, was bought by UEFA Cup champions Parma.
Simone, a striker like his brother, would have to wait a little longer. A couple of decent if unremarkable loan spells later, he was given an opportunity with the Piacenza first team. He attacked it with both feet. 15 goals in the 1998/99 Serie A season meant he outscored his big brother, then with Juventus, and earned him a transfer to Scudetto-chasing Lazio.
A year later, the two were contesting a league championship. With nine league matches remaining, Lazio beat Juventus 1-0 in Turin to take them within three points of the summit. “At least this way if one of them loses, he can console himself with the fact that the other has won,” said the pair’s father Giancarlo ahead of that crucial game in the title race and Inzaghi family history.
His comments weren’t a thinly-veiled attempt at diplomacy; they were reflective of a genuine sentiment within the Inzaghi clan. Even in the heat of battle, there was no acrimony between the boys.
In the end, Lazio were triumphant, completing a treble of UEFA Super Cup, Coppa Italia, and Serie A. With 19 goals in 39 matches, the 1999/2000 season was the zenith of Simone’s career. In the next 11 years, he would reach double figures just once. In his final seven seasons, he scored four goals in total.
Pippo fared immeasurably better in the new millennium, winning eight trophies- including the World Cup in 2006. Upon moving to Milan in 2001, he became a poacher in platonic form: obsessed with goals, glory, and not much else. Johan Cruyff once opined: “Look, he can’t actually play football at all. He’s just always in the right position.”
Being in that right position won him two Champions Leagues with Milan, and made him the club’s leading goalscorer in European competition. It was his instinctual gifts, rather than the qualities in his feet, which made him a great player. His was an unthinking brilliance.
The game’s great managers, however, tend to be more calculated- and Simone is the embodiment of that. Growing up in San Nicola, he and Pippo played in the same junior team, a team which Simone captained despite the presence of his much older, more dextrous brother. Even at such a tender age, he showed an understanding of structure, organisation, and discipline. It was perhaps inevitable that he would one day stand on the touchlines, charged with making the important decisions.
Yet it was Pippo who was first afforded a chance at glory from the dugout. After retiring in 2010, he took charge of Milan Primavera, the club’s youth system, before promotion to the under-19s and eventually the first team. Milan finished tenth in his only season in charge, and Pippo was dismissed.
He had more luck with Venezia, winning promotion to the second tier before being appointed Bologna manager in 2018. He was sacked after two wins in his first 21 games, but not before crossing paths with a familiar face on 26 December.
In the eight years previous, Simone had quietly built a reputation for himself as one of Italy’s brightest managerial talents. Beginning with Lazio’s youth team in 2010, he ultimately took over as top boss in 2016 after Marcelo Bielsa’s infamous two-day tenure at Stadio Olimpico. Since that day, he has won the Coppa Italia in 2019 and turned Lazio into genuine title contenders for the first time in two decades. He beat his brother’s Bologna side on Boxing Day 2018 and Pippo was sacked three matches down the line.
The elder Inzaghi has since found his feet with Benevento, with whom he stormed to promotion to Serie A last season. This means the siblings will meet as managers for a second time in the coming campaign. In their playing days, Simone rarely stepped out of his brother’s shadow. When they meet again, it will be as great friends, and as peers. Equilibrium will be restored.
By Adam Williams @adam___williams