Javier Zanetti is the legend to whom every modern-day footballer should look upon. The Inter Milan legend has been one of the finest examples of the greatest game on the planet, who has tirelessly contributed to his team with his grit and determination. The Argentine has lived up to each of the expectations which Internazionale placed on him since moving to San Siro from Banfield in 1994. He has delivered for them relentlessly for over 3 decades and led his team by example with the armband, carrying the responsibility it symbolised. Let’s take a look back in the Life of the Argentine who had the strongest work ethic and became the face of Milanese supporters throughout the 2000s.
Early Life and Youth Football Career
Javier Zanetti was born to a labour-class family in Buenos Aires on 10th of August, 1973. Zanetti grew up playing football in the suburbs of the Dock Stud district where he was born. He was rejected during the trials of the local club Independiente due to his weak physique. Zanetti focused more on school and helping out his father and family in laying bricks and helping out in shops.
Zanetti completed signing for Talleres RE as his first club and moved on to first division club Banfield a year later. He scored his first goal against Newell’s Old Boys and did put up great performances for Banfield which earned him a call-up for the national team. River Plate and Boca Juniors did look out for Zanetti, but Zanetti decided to put his efforts to the place which gave him chances when no one was around.
Move to Inter Milan
Italian business tycoon, Massimo Moratti took over Inter Milan in 1995 amidst dominance of Juventus and AC Milan in Italian football. It was huge task for Moratti to overhaul the whole club, to dominate in European club competitions and Serie A. Moratti scouted Javier Zanetti from Argentina as one of his first signings for the club. Zanetti started as a player who was capable of filling up in various positions due to his versatility. Zanetti scored in the 1998 UEFA Cup final against Lazio which was his first silverware for the club.
The Pillar of Inter Milan
As long-serving Italian defender Giuseppe Bergomi retired in the year of 1999, the Brazillian Ronaldo was given the armband for the Nerazzurri’s. Ronaldo was the fantastic Brazillian prodigy and limelight surrounded him. He was lauded as one of the best strikers who have ever played the game by legendary defender Paolo Maldini. The Nerazzurri’s suffered a huge hit to their dreams as recurring and difficult injury problems did hit Ronaldo as he inherited the captain’s armband. Ronaldo was forced to be out for the entire 2000-01 season and it was none other than Javier Zanetti who had to carry the dreams of thousands of Milan fans.
Zanetti did hold the baton in the times of difficulty for the Inter fans and he was rewarded with the captain’s armband in 2001. He was known for his excellent stamina and energy to push up and down the pitch. He was an excellent ball-winner, could play on either flank with both of his feet. He had brilliant distribution skills and could shoot from a distance. Extremely versatile, Zanetti could have played for a top-tier club in his prime.
Despite getting lucrative offers from Real Madrid or Barcelona at that time, Zanetti decided to stay in Inter and shoulder the responsibilities of a captain to win more trophies for the Italian club.
“I was motivated [for so long at Inter] because of my desire to leave an imprint on the club. In the first decade here I only won one Uefa Cup and we endured some difficult times. I was captain during some hard times for the club and it’s in those moments you find out who is a good captain. A leader always put himself in front of the cameras in those situations, but the successes are the moments you look forward to.”Javier Zanetti on why he decided to stay at Inter Milan
Javier Zanetti was stern and resolute in winning something for the Inter fans. He signed a contract in 2003 to extend his stay till 2007.
The Argentine played under a total of 17 managers throughout his life, which is the most by any other player. It included the likes of Roy Hodgson, Marcelo Lippi, Hektor Cuper, Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho who has framed his career to become a complete player for the club. In all of the manager’s plans, Zanetti played a really important role and started almost all the games.
Arrival of Maicon and trophies came raining for Zanetti
Javier Zanetti moved onto a midfield position once Maicon arrived at the club. Zanetti developed a great partnership with Maicon on the field. He won his first Serie A title in the 2005-06 season and followed it up with 4 consecutive Scudettos for the club. He scored the decisive penalty in the 2008 Supercoppa Italiana Final against Roma. Upon injuries to important midfielders like Cambiasso, Muntari, head coach Jose Mourinho played him in the 2008-09 season in the midfield with other players filling up for him in defence.
The 2009-10 season brought up great success for the Inter Milan team with victories against crosstown rivals AC Milan. Inter lifted the Scudetto, Coppa Italia in the season. Inter faced Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on the night of 22nd of May, 2010 which marked the 700th appearance for Zanetti in the blue and black stripes. Inter won 2-0 which made Zanetti the first captain of an Italian club to win a European treble.
Records Galore for El Tractor
Running up and down the pitch till the final whistle of his career, Zanetti became the oldest player to score in a Champions League group fixture in 2010 against Tottenham Hotspur. He overtook Guiseppe Bergomi for maximum all-time appearances as a Serie A player in 2011. On 21 April 2014 against Parma, Zanetti played his 1,100th official match and became the player with the fourth-most appearances of all time.
In his 19-year career with Inter Milan where he served as a captain for 14 years, he played 858 games for the club. This is by far, the maximum appearances of a foreigner in Serie A and a record number of appearances for a player for Inter Milan.
Emotional Farewell and association with Inter
On 10th of May, 2014, Zanetti stepped into the turf of the San Siro for the final time as a player. He was introduced as a 2nd half substitute in the game against Lazio which Inter won 4-1. Zanetti wore a special armband which carried the names of all players he had played with up his sleeve. It was an emotional farewell for one of the greatest servants of the Nerazzuris as Zanetti pointed out “Inter is my life”. Zanetti will always remain one of the greatest gentlemen the club has ever produced who is a tireless worker of the modern game.
Javier Zanetti was appointed as the club vice-president by club chairman Erik Thohir within a few months. The No. 4 jersey was retired by Inter Milan, following a charitable match in 2015.
Career with the Albiceleste
Despite having a bits and pieces career with the national team, Zanetti ended up being the second player with the most appearances with the national team, having held the record from 2007 to 2018. He reached the finals of the Copa America in 2004 and 2007, along with the finals of the Confederations Cup in 1995 and 2005. Zanetti featured in the 1998 World Cup where Argentina was eliminated in quarters against Netherlands and in 2002 World Cup where Bielsa’s men did not go past the group stage.
Interestingly, Zanetti was left out of the squad by Jose Pekermann and was replaced by Lionel Scaloni, who was included as a last-minute surprise move. After featuring repeatedly for the side post-2006, He was again left out by Diego Maradona during the 2010 World Cup.
Life Beyond Football
Zanetti is married to his long-time girlfriend Paula de la Fuente, who is a daughter of a university lecturer. They have 3 children who go by the names of Sol, Ignacio and Tomas. Zanetti is a devoted Catholic who believes that being a good person is much more important than being a good player. Zanetti is FIFA ambassador for the SOS Children’s Villages project in Argentina.
Javier Zanetti believes that football is played in a different way than it was at his time. He took it upon as a challenge to succeed in Inter Milan and make the club win important big trophies. Nowadays, the immediate attraction lies to move to a club which offers the greatest of salaries or silverware.
Zanetti has been completely Inter throughout, as he still continues to promote with all his might across the globe. He keeps a touch to his fans via the “Inter Media House” and the “Inter Forever” programmes. He remains as committed as he was once, as a player. Rushing up and down the pitch with an excellent work ethic, Zanetti will be always remembered by the game as one of the most consistent and positive leaders of the club and one of Inter’s biggest icons.
“I think it’s (football) different because times have changed. I hope those times return, because feeling ‘part’ of a club is an extraordinary feeling” he enthuses. Myself, Paolo Maldini, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Ryan Giggs; these are all careers which are very similar. We all share a special feeling, because we have all been a real part of our respective clubs.”Javier Zanetti on fighting for Inter till the final whistle
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