10 August 2012

Zanetti: still going after all these years

Javier Zanetti: legend is not a good enough word to describe him at Inter.

Javier Zanetti, one of the great defenders of modern times, celebrates his 39th birthday today - and is still playing at the highest level.

Zanetti has served Italian giants Inter Milan with distinction for the last 17 years. Last night, at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, he made his 799th appearance for the club in their UEFA Europa League clash with Hajduk Split. Disappointingly for Zanetti and Inter, they lost 2-0.

That won't make a dent in Nerazzurri supporters' opinion of him, though. He is universally loved at Inter, and rightly so. He has won five Serie A titles (all consecutively, between 2006 and 2010), four Coppa Italias, four Supercoppa Italias, the 1998 UEFA Cup, the 2010 FIFA World Club Cup and the 2010 UEFA Champions League.

He has had a wonderful and distinguished career, and long may it continue.

The right-back's story began in his native Argentina, where he made his senior debut for second division side Talleres in 1991. Two years later, he signed for Banfield. His performances for the club attracted attention from River Plate and Boca Juniors, but he turned them down, and when he did leave Banfield in 1995, it was for an Italian giant.

That year, Massimo Moratti became president of FC Internazionale Milano. His first purchases were two Argentineans. One of them was a young striker from Independiente called Sebastián Rambert, who would go on to make a grand total of zero appearances for Inter. The other was Javier Adelmar Zanetti.

His Inter debut came against Vicenza on 27 August 1995. Very quickly, he nailed down a first-team place, and in his third season, Zanetti lifted his first major trophy for the club. In fact, he scored the second of three goals in the UEFA Cup Final against Serie A rivals Lazio. That strike was one of 21 goals he has scored for Inter to date.

When the legendary Giuseppe Bergomi retired after the 1998/1999 season, Zanetti was the perfect candidate to replace him as captain. During a tumultuous period at Inter, in which Moratti chopped and changed managers with the regularity of Katie Price going through boyfriends, Zanetti was an ever-present. Even when the Brazilian right-back Maicon arrived in 2006, he remained in the starting eleven by moving up to midfield.

2006 marked the start of a period of domination for Inter Milan, first under the managership of Roberto Mancini, and then Jose Mourinho. That culminated in the 2010 Champions League Final in Madrid, where 'El Tractor' captained Mourinho's men to a 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich. Victory ensured that he became the first man to lead an Italian club to the Treble of league, cup, and Champions League triumphs.

A strong and resilient player, Zanetti also has a good disciplinary record for a defender. His first red card came in February 1999 against Parma, and it was another twelve years before he saw red again - versus Udinese in December 2011.

As far as his international career goes, that was long and successful as well, if not as glittering. Between his first cap for Argentina in 1994 and his national-record 145th in 2011, Zanetti played in two World Cups (1998 and 2002), won an Olympic silver medal in Atlanta 1996, and featured in a couple of Copa America Finals (2004 and 2007). Sadly, an international trophy always eluded him.

His Inter contract runs until the end of this season, when he is expected to hang up his boots and continue to work with the Nerazzurri in a different capacity. Having overtaken Bergomi as Inter's top appearance maker last season, his place in the club's history books is assured.

Happy birthday, Javier, and I wish you one more wonderful season with Inter!

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