Plenty has been written about what a wonderful experience tonight’s meeting with Internazionale will be for Chris Wilder and his players.
After all, as Sheffield United’s manager admitted when the fixture was announced, it “isn’t every day of the week” one of the “biggest teams out there” graces the turf at Bramall Lane.
But given the city’s significance, because it is the cradle of the game, the match promises to be a memorable occasion for Luciano Spalletti’s squad too as Andrea Ranocchia, the Nerazzurri’s vice-captain, explained.
“Clearly, Sheffield has played an important role in the history of football,” he told The Star. “So, as a footballer myself, it is great to be visiting such a historic setting.”
United supporters might be surprised to discover that Inter, the three time European champions and holders of 18 Serie A titles, have been doing their research before travelling to South Yorkshire. But, as their name suggests, the visitors have always possessed a broad reaching outlook. Indeed, they established over a century ago because, unlike arch-rivals AC Milan, the club’s founder members wanted to accept foreign as well as Italian players. Ranocchia, capped 21 times by his country, boasts a particular fondness for English football having completed a brief spell on loan with Hull City during the 2016/17 campaign. Aged 30, he has spent the past few days learning about United, their surroundings and also their stadium which, Ranocchia was fascinated to learn, staged the world’s first football tournament, its first floodlit contest and first meeting between England and Scotland outside of London or Glasgow.
“England is the home of football and it’s great to go back after my spell at Hull City,” Ranocchia continued. “I have fond memories of football crowds in the north of England and I can’t wait to play at Bramall Lane.
“The thing that struck me the most from my time in England was the fervent support of the crowd. Clearly, English football is very fast paced and physical. It was a great challenge having been used to a more tactical style of play in Italy.”
Ranocchia had just turned professional with U.S. Arezzo when, in 2007, Inter provided the opposition for Sheffield FC’s 150th anniversary game. Despite fielding a youthful Primavera squad, Marco Materazzi and a teenage Mario Balotelli, left, both featured as the visitors beat their non-league opponents 5-2 in front of a 19,000 crowd. Although Ranocchia has no knowledge of events that night - “Personally, I wasn’t at the club. In fact, I don’t think any of the current playing staff were involved” - Roberto Gotta, an influential Italian journalist, does.
He said: “Inter were very proud of being part of the celebrations. Moratti and managing director Ernesto Paolillo arrived on the night of the match on a private flight while Pietro Ausilio, who is now Inter’s sporting director, was the highest ranking director making the trip with the squad.”
Radja Nainggolan, Stefan de Vrij and Mauro Icardi, the joint winner of last season’s Capocannoniere crown, are among those set to face United while Antonio Candreva could also feature. Wilder is expected to include new record signing John Egan in his starting eleven, alongside several players who, like Ranocchia, have worked their way up from the bottom.
“Inter are one big family,” Ranocchia said. “The club’s motto sums us up: ‘We are brothers of the world.’ Our 300 million fans around the world are further proof of that. The club is a truly international environment and has been ever since it was founded 110 years ago. Personally I’m very excited to be back in the Champions League, which is where a club of Inter’s size truly belongs.”