The Giant

Ricardo Duarte
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Sportingbet

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When Alex crossed that one into the box, their defense sent it away with a header, and the ball came skipping my way, I found myself completely unmarked outside the box. Listen carefully: I said completely unmarked.

At Gigante da Beira-Rio, you’re never really alone.

When I stepped on the pitch that day in September 2008, I felt the love of my family with me, the great welcome from teammates at my new club, the bursting support from the coloradas in the stands.

In football and in life, that one loose ball right in front of the goal can change your journey. And it was just like that that I began, in fact, to write my name in the history of Sport Club Internacional. 

When I reminisce, my very first goal in one of the biggest derbies in the world was a clear sign that a beautiful journey in the red jersey was about to be written. 

That shot not only opened the scoring in our 4–1 win in the Gre-Nal, but it was also the undeniable kickoff to the best decision I've ever made in my 40-year existence: to play for — and fall in love with — Inter.

At Beira-Rio, I elevated myself as a player. Better yet, I fulfilled myself as a human being.

Let me tell you how it all happened.

Two months before that golazo, I had just arrived in Porto Alegre and, I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive.

Sounds like a lie, doesn’t it?

If I were in your place, I would doubt it, too. After all, why would someone who ended up with such a connection to Inter — someone who had a 12-year love affair with the club — be so nervous? 

The truth is I've always admired Brazilian players. Ronaldinho, Ronaldo Fenômeno, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos … my God, that talent! And I was just about to sign with one of the huge clubs from their homeland.

The surprise came right away upon my arrival, which I remember to this day. It was a winter night when the plane landed. I was very anxious for my first contact with the supporters, and could already see myself taking photos and signing autographs at the arrivals lobby. Suddenly….

¡No me lo puedo creer!

I couldn't believe my eyes. 

Hundreds of colorados were at the airport to welcome me.

Flags, fireworks, the drums from the Guarda Popular.

And all that before a match day! (In just a few hours, Inter would host Santos at our place!)

It was crazy the effort they put in to make me feel welcome since that first day in town. And that goes for all parts of the club – the board, the squad, the coaching staff, the management, the coffee lady, the security.

Andrés D'Alessandro | Club Nacional de Football | The Players' Tribune
Ricardo Duarte

On the other hand, that kind of big reception creates expectation and pressure, especially in an institution as great as Inter. In the years before my arrival, they had been champions of almost everything — even the Club World Cup! Playing against Barcelona, with Ronaldinho!

Right after that ball hit the back of Victor’s net, I could feel exactly what Fernando Carvalho, a member of Inter’s board, had explained to me in the meeting when we were negotiating my transfer.

That day in Buenos Aires, he passed on to me the feeling of the Gre-Nal derby and the importance to the people. It touched me in a very special way because it fit perfectly with the philosophy that has followed me throughout my career:

You live like you play, and you play like you live.

Of course, I had already experienced the rivalry between River Plate and Boca Juniors, in Argentina. Of course, I had heard about the historical battles in Rio Grande. But to play a Gre-Nal is an experience like no other.

I was born into a family passionate about football, and I’ve always dreamed about playing in the big derbies. In La Paternal, I spent most of my childhood daydreaming about dribbles, passes and shots. At the time, a little green gate right at the corner of my house was my Beira-Rio stadium. 

If anyone wished to find me after school, it was easy. All you had to do was to look for the green gate at my street and there I would be, trying to mimic the genius of my idol, Rubén Paz.

I inherited from my father, Eduardo, the love for Rubén, a top Uruguayan player from Racing. But not even in my wildest dreams could I imagine putting on the number 10 kit he wore at Inter, where he was a three-time state champion in the ’80s.

I also owe my father my career as a footballer. Many times I came home and decided to give it all up, but both him and my mother, Gladys, offered me support and convinced me to keep going. It wasn’t easy, of course. I didn’t always follow my parents’ advice, and ended up paying the price for it. Is there any doubt on which nickname I was given by my father?

Cabezón.

(Pig head.)

Andrés D’Alessandro | Club Nacional de Football | The Players’ Tribune
Courtesy of Andrés D’Alessandro

Ever since I was little, nothing came easy for me.

My father laboured many hours, first as a taxi driver and then as a mechanic, so that I could afford my boots.

Our house was very tiny, so the living room also doubled as a bedroom for myself and my brother, Marcelo. I’ll always carry with me the memories of our beds sitting right beside the dinner table.

Throughout my development in River Plate’s youth academy, where I began when I was nine, I almost never was a starter. The reason why? I was very skinny. Basically, all the coaches told me I did not have enough strength as an excuse to leave me on the bench.

I cried a lot. A lot.

But my father kept pushing me: “If you love football, you’ll play it. If you don’t play in River, you’ll play elsewhere, even if it is a Série D club.”

While my friends enjoyed the weekends, having fun outside in the street, I had to go to bed early because I always had a game or training session the next morning. 

Nowadays, people see the D’Alessandro that battles and fights. I carry myself like that because I cherish my own roots and the hardship I faced, with the sacrifices from my family to make my way in football.

Inter believed in me during one of the greatest periods of its 112-year history of glories and achievements.

I cherish my own roots and the hardship I faced.

Andrés D’Alessandro

Man, being honest, at that point in my head my future was supposed to be in Spain. In 2003, River sold me to Wolfsburg. After 2½ years in Germany, I had an experience in England with Portsmouth and, right afterwards, I was loaned out to Real Zaragoza, who eventually bought me.

As in the beginning of 2008, my wife, Érika, was a few months pregnant with our second child, Santino. We decided to move back to Buenos Aires so the baby could be born surrounded by family. In San Lorenzo, my time loaned was very short, but enough to raise eyebrows at Inter.

The colorados opened much more than just the club doors to me.

In Porto Alegre, I went through a very deep experience of belonging and empathy. The connection with the supporters came naturally. It was love at first sight. The most important thing was that I felt a pure and true passion in each of the 516 games I had the privilege to dress in red and white.

We felt it.

Sometimes I didn’t have to say a word (something rare, I know). Just glancing at the stands I could understand that colorado feeling, the fighting spirit from the Clube do Povo.

Alongside the supporters, I fulfilled my dream to conquer America. We won more Gre-Nals than we lost — and without breaking any codes on the pitch.

I had the honor not only to participate in the reopening ceremony for Beira-Rio, but also to write my own name in the very first chapter of our new home, with two goals. I cried. A lot.

Andrés D’Alessandro | Club Nacional de Football | The Players’ Tribune
Ricardo Duarte

More important than assists, goals and titles — at Gigante we left the rivalry aside and united to do good and embrace the less fortunate people from Porto Alegre.

In Lance de Craque, you are the main characters.

Who said that colorados and tricolores can't pelear together? When that happens, we feel only solidarity and hope. This is the Rio Grande I learned to love. I am Argentinian by birth and a gaúcho in the heart.

My youngest son, Gonzalo, about to turn six years old, is Brazilian, gaúcho and, of course, C-O-L-O-R-A-D-O. 

Inter gave me much more than I could ever dream of. I am convinced that not even in two lifetimes could I give enough back to this club, its staff and supporters.

My farewell this past December happened at the right time, and it was my own decision. But unfortunately, it was not as I had envisioned it. As we deserved it.

If the supporters were hurt by my choice, I apologise. That was not my intention.

From the packed airport at my arrival to the empty stands due to the coronavirus pandemic. From the heartfelt celebrations over the 13 trophies we won together to the memories of our unforgettable moments at the edge of the Guaíba.

The absence of those last embraces and last kisses was very hard to take. 

At least I said my goodbyes knowing that I had left a legacy for the upcoming generations: to place Internacional's crest above everything.

I arrived at the club full of dreams, and I left carrying eternal love for the colorado.

A feeling I passed on, with great pride and affection, to my own children.

Just like Martina, Santino and Gonzalo have already felt the emotion of walking through the tunnel in Beira-Rio alongside me, and I know that, whenever the three of them wish to return to the stadium where their father made history, they’ll have a secured place in the stands and a warm welcome. 

Just like the story of the Clube do Povo.

It’s Inter!