Helenio Herrera's Exercises in Magic

Helenio Herrera, the maverick architect of that sparkling, radical, much-maligned Grande Inter of the 1960s, set the template for the cult of personality that surrounds modern-day football coaches: man management, mind games and siege mentality. Il Mago (the Wizard) also knew much about the power of words and language, even if his own personal voice was a beautifully eccentric medley of Italian, Spanish, French, Arabic and various dialect points in between: testament to his cosmopolitan roots and outlook.

In an age of corporate motivational missives and bland social media “inspirational” quotations, it’s perhaps easy to miss the vitality and stimulus that the maxims and slogans, compiled in the book by Fiora Gandolfi Herrera, Helenio’s widow, had at the time. They would be placed at suitable points around Inter’s training ground, first at Linate, then at their current base, La Pinetina, near Como (opened 1962, to Herrera’s specifications). They speakof sacrifice, self-discipline and self-awareness, of thoughts and meditation, of silence and space. And yes, there is magic.

Matthew Barker.

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