Iván Zamorano is Chile’s third-highest goalscorer of all time. He won trophies with both Real Madrid and Inter, and was a key part of the only Cobresal team to claim the Copa Chile title before that. But the trophies he lifted and the goals he scored only tell half the story.
To truly understand the greatness of Zamorano, you simply had to watch him play.
The history books will remember him kindly, but the statistics alone don’t do him justice. They can’t explain the passion, the desire and the incredible determination he showed every time he took to the pitch. Even his nicknames, Bam Bam and Iván el Terrible, can only hint at his character.
Just look at the reception Zamorano was given by Inter’s supporters after his retirement in 2003.
Forty-one goals in one hundred and forty-nine games may not sound like the record of a legend, but this was a player that understood what it meant to be an Interista. This was a love story.
Gigi Simoni, Zamorano’s coach at Inter for a year, described him as “the soul of that team”.
“I still remember how Zamorano incited the team before going on the pitch,” Simoni told us exclusively. “Every match was like a war for him, but it was not only a matter of determination, because he was a very good player too.”
Zamorano managed only 20 appearances and four goals in Simoni’s one full season in charge, 1997-98, mainly owing to injury, but he was always far more than just a goalscorer. He was the dream strike partner, attracting defenders and freeing up space for team-mates. Ronaldo scored 34 goals that season, many of them with Zamorano alongside him.
As for the Chilean’s four goals, he saved the most memorable until last, opening the scoring in the UEFA Cup final against Lazio, which Inter won 3-0.
Zamorano and Ronaldo dovetailed brilliantly that season, but Roberto Baggio signed in the summer of ’98 and insisted on taking the Brazilian’s No.10 shirt, with Ronaldo duly handed Zamorano’s No.9.
Bam Bam had a rather unique solution to that problem. He had successfully fought for everything else he had wanted in life – it should have come as no surprise that he found a way to get what he wanted this time.
Well, sort of. He decided to take the No.18 shirt, adding a + sign between the two numbers. This was a man who knew what it meant and what it took to be a No.9.
As well as Ronaldo and Baggio, Zamorano also had to compete with the likes of Adrian Mutu, Alvaro Recoba and Christian Vieri during his time in Milan, but the Chilean remained a regular until December 2000 when he left for Mexican side Club América a month short of his 34th birthday.
Just like Roy Hodgson and Simoni before them, successive Inter managers understood the importance of Zamorano to the team. Some of his contemporaries from that time may have scored more goals, but few are remembered with the same fondness.
“I can only thank the Inter fans for the esteem they still hold me in,” Zamorano told Inter’s website in 2015. “You know just how much Inter means to me.”
While Zamorano was not a prolific goalscorer for Inter, the same could certainly not be said about the rest of his career.
It had begun professionally at El Salvador-based Cobresal, who did not have a single national honour to their name at the time. That changed in Zamorano’s first season as a regular in 1987 when they won the Copa Chile, with Zamorano scoring 13 goals in 14 appearances in the competition. It remains the only time they have ever lifted the trophy.
He made his debut for the national side in ’87 too, scoring, but it was to be one of only two goals in his first 12 appearances for La Roja.
Zamorano’s exploits in South America were still enough to earn him a move to Europe in 1988, but things got off to an inauspicious start on that front too. He was bought by Bologna in Serie A but loaned out and eventually sold to Swiss side St. Gallen without ever making an appearance for the Italians.
Two years and thirty-four goals later, Zamorano was transferred to Sevilla. He enjoyed a breakthrough year for the national side, too, scoring six goals in nine appearances, and was a quick hit in Spain, scoring 21 goals in 59 appearances for the Andalusians. By 1992 he had been sold to Real Madrid, whose president at the time, Ramón Mendoza, described him as the “extraordinary” No.9 the club had been missing.
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It was with Real that Zamorano enjoyed the most successful spell of his career, scoring 101 goals in 173 appearances for Los Blancos and helping them win a first La Liga title in five years in 1994-95, when he also finished as the league’s top goalscorer with 28.
Zamorano’s partnership with Davor Šuker at Sevilla was exceptional, but alongside Michael Laudrup at Real he hit even greater heights – literally. He was regarded as one of the best strikers in the world by this time, and in the air he was unparalleled with a leap like no other.
Having already won the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de España with Real in 1993, his crowning moment undoubtedly came midway through that 94-95 season, when he scored three and helped set up the other two in a 5-0 thrashing of Barcelona. Legendary status secured.
The emergence of a young Raúl led to Zamorano’s departure to Inter in 1996, but by now he was part of another devastating partnership, this time on the international stage. He and Marcelo Salas scored 11 goals in 19 appearances between them for Chile that year.
Two years later, they were one of the most feared partnerships in international football, with Salas scoring four goals and Zamorano claiming two assists at the 1998 World Cup in France. But, to reiterate, statistics alone cannot explain Zamorano’s influence.
Watching him singing the national anthem against Brazil that summer goes at least some way to explaining the warrior spirit he brought to the team. In football there are many great players but far fewer great leaders. Zamorano was both.
Zamorano finished his career by realising a lifelong ambition of playing for Colo-Colo back in Chile. He scored eight more goals in 14 appearances before finally hanging up his boots in 2003 after a professional career spanning more than 16 years.
“I just wanted to play football, nothing else mattered,” Zamorano later said in an interview with Marca.
Like everything else, he made it happen.
By Mark Holmes