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Thursday May 8 2014
Zanetti: Inter’s past, present and future

Javier Zanetti is set to retire after nearly two decades in service of Inter. Jeremy Lim hails the club legend and looks at what characterised a glittering career.

Not many symbolise strength as well as Javier Zanetti. It must have taken a staggering amount for him to have made it through the last few days. He did not just have to endure the ignominy of missing what would have been his last Milan derby appearance on Sunday, watching powerlessly from the bench as Inter surrendered tamely to defeat. Two days later, he issued a wrenching confirmation that he would be retiring from the game.

Inter’s Captain Fantastic has managed to stave off the inevitable for so long. But 856 appearances later and nearing 41, the man affectionately known as ‘The Tractor’ is finally ready to pack it in. “Because after the Achilles injury last April, I wanted to demonstrate that I could return and be competitive, but I could not,” he explained. “I feel complete and have realised to retire at 40 is a priceless feeling.”

The writing was perhaps on the wall before the season began. Stretchered off in agony against Palermo, Zanetti still vowed what seemed the impossible then. “My career does not finish here. After travelling so many kilometres, I just needed to change my tyres. I want to come back even stronger than before.”

Determined to fulfil that promise, his return just over six months later gave testimony to his superb physical conditioning and reserves of willpower. Coming on versus Livorno, Zanetti was no passenger either, starting the move that resulted in Yuto Nagatomo making it 2-0.

Boss Walter Mazzarri hailed the side’s ageless talisman later: “All our players have a lot to learn from Zanetti, just by looking at him, and seeing that you can make a difference. He's world class and you saw that today. In just 10 minutes when he came on he was a calming presence for the whole team. You don't find many people who can slot back in with so much ease after an injury like he had.”

A fixture at Appiano Gentile since 1995, Zanetti’s longevity meant he was the bridge between a couple of generations of Inter players. He’s outlasted many of them, going through some of the outfit’s greatest depths and similarly, triumphs. Through it all, a slick comb-back hairstyle has stuck with him. It embodies his qualities on the pitch best - elegant, economist and unmistakably stylish, regardless of position. Always getting on with the simple things best, with finesse and minimum fuss.

Such staying power at top level is quietly amazing. He owes his extraterrestrial levels of endurance to an unshakeable commitment which is the hallmark of a long and glittering career - that unapologetic need to prepare his state of mind and body for the games played week in and week out. “I don't mess around when it comes to fitness,” the constant powerhouse once stated. “My teammates at Inter mock me when we are training. ‘Stop running, let us win for a change’, they joke.”

Winning incarnations of Inter always kept a spot open for him, confirming his continued relevance. Jose Mourinho switched him about right-back, central midfield and left-back in 2010, where he famously muzzled compatriot Lionel Messi en route to clinching the Champions League and a historic treble. Leaving the flashy work to Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito, Zanetti was reliability personified as he established himself in Inter folklore.

His recent comeback from injury should have marked the beginning of the Argentine’s resurgence, but Zanetti has only occupied a bit-part role in the club’s campaign. Playing only nine games since, the eventual downfall culminated in Coach Mazzarri’s baffling oversight of not presenting the San Siro icon his swansong in Sunday’s Derby della Madonnina.

The snub should have proven more than a little difficult to stomach for someone of Zanetti’s standing in the Inter community. Yet in a reign spanning a pair of decades, he has rarely betrayed a moment out of character. Dignified in all his actions, he has been unruffled by rejections and decisions made against him - even when being inexplicably omitted from his country’s World Cup squads in 2006 and 2010.

He will continue his love affair with the Nerazzurri, albeit in a suit and tie. It will be a new challenge joining President Erick Thohir’s fledgling directorship, but one Zanetti is typically ready for. “Do I fear life after this? No, there is no fear. Certainly I will miss things, aspects of the routine of a player. Yet I think that the fear must be for those who do not know how to occupy their new free time and fortunately in this I have resolved the issue,” he affirmed.

“It is clear that nothing will be as before, but I am ready because I will continue in the world of football and this will keep me alive. A new world opens for me, and that excites me. There will be a thousand things to do.” Having Zanetti’s core principles of hard-work and perseverance on board will serve as a driving force for many more years to come as Thohir paves the way to Inter’s future.

For the present though, he has one last moment to soak up the adulation of the Inter faithful when they host Lazio this Saturday. It would be a grand opportunity to salute the living legend for an era of faithful service as a player, and simultaneously open another chapter in his sustained partnership with the club.

Image: Javier Zanetti and his haircut have seen through 19 seasons together at Inter.

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Have your say...
You Inter fans are funny. Well done on the CL in 2010. Was your proudest moment when they parked the bus in the semi-final? CL is always a lottery. Mourinho managed to win it with Porto playing similar tactics. The league is the real measure of a team (I say this as a Milan fan) and Inter have not won a Scudetto in a competitive league since the 80s! Roma and Lazio managed it but Inter brought down their main competitors. Its quite pathetic.
on the 12th May, 2014 at 9:11am
One of the last legends of Serie A's heydays, I hopes there is a youngster somewhere in inters squad to carry the mantle but I'm sure if their is.
on the 11th May, 2014 at 9:53am
@ Maldini's hair, we have seen what your joke club has done to its legends. Fortunately we at Inter are more honourable & have integrity. Forza Inter! P.S Kovacic vs Lazio is our future not Zanetti.
on the 10th May, 2014 at 9:35pm
What a man. Dedication is all you need. I would like to see him and Barbara Berlusconi have a mudfight. He would destroy her.
on the 10th May, 2014 at 9:29pm
Legend.. Only thing I like about Inter.
on the 9th May, 2014 at 5:57pm
Although the word is often overused, Zanetti is an absolute legend and personifies everything good about Inter. Even during the dark days of the late 90's and early 2000's he was a shining light.

He represented the best qualities of a footballer and a man; honour, courage and respect and he must have done something right if even Juventus and Milan fans respect him and don't have a bad word to say about him.

He will be truly missed by all football fans, not just those of Inter.

Forza Capitano.
on the 9th May, 2014 at 8:43am
You easily miss words to describe the love for Zanetti from us Inter fans.
An icon that symbolises the great meaning of football. The passion, determination, proffessionalism, loyalty and - a symbol for Inter.
We can only wish to witness anybody close to il Capitano the comming generations. Especially with the money industry that rules todays football (unfortunatelly)...
C'e solo un capitano !!
on the 9th May, 2014 at 8:19am
@ Jack. Well said, Calciopoli crippled, bayern, Chelsea, man Utd, Barca etc. Maldinis heir makes himself sound stupid with comments like that. the truth is whatever he says about how poor Inter are, the same can be said of Milan. But Inter has a President with ideas at least, Milans presidents only ideas are bunga bunga parties
on the 9th May, 2014 at 5:43am
A true professional and absolute Legend ! Zanetti put's most current footballers to shame - Inter's pride and the envy of everyone else - Grazie Capitano
forever the best !
on the 8th May, 2014 at 11:13pm
I agree that he is one of those sadly rare gentleman footballers. A disciplined and classy athlete, and I hope he continues to have a fulfilling career after retiring from the pitch.
on the 8th May, 2014 at 6:26pm
Ciao and Grazie Javier. All who love football love the way you conducted yourself on and off the pitch
on the 8th May, 2014 at 6:11pm
@Maldini's Heir - So the Calciopoli also crippled Inter's competitors in the Champions League did it?

Ridiculous comment, go for a walk.
on the 8th May, 2014 at 5:54pm
Great Champaion, sad to see him retire. One of the few Inter players i had respect for Zanetti certainly deserved a final Milan Derby. Inter will be one great champion less next season. (No matter whom they bring in)
on the 8th May, 2014 at 5:32pm
zanetti for my money has been one of the very best players in serie a for the last decade, he both outshone the opposition and his follow team mates despite him being 10 or 15 years older than them. As with Maldini or del piero i would have hoped he would have gone out on a high however he has plenty of silverware to make up for this.
on the 8th May, 2014 at 4:41pm
Agreed. If Calciopoli doesn't happen, Inter don't win the 5.

That being said, Zanetti is class all the way.
on the 8th May, 2014 at 4:24pm
Legend. Not just Inter, not just Serie A, but this beautiful game of football will be poorer for his absence.
on the 8th May, 2014 at 4:05pm
@ Huy Hoang Nguyen You'll have to create another calciopoli if you want to go back to 2010! Boom! Inter had their day in the sun when they handicapped their main competitors. Not even Zanetti can save you now (and no I don't care if I ever end up eating my own words they taste great!).
on the 8th May, 2014 at 3:31pm
A true great.

Unlike the countless overpayed wasters playing today.

Adios, Zanetti... The best professional I've ever seen.
on the 8th May, 2014 at 2:55pm
It's just Zanetti. The name which says everything about the true brand. Javier, with all respect, he's last thing Inter should think about making stupid move. Always somewhere in our heart the fan. Thanks for your contribution Javier.
Please become Inter'r brain next year, and stop the stupid and ridiculous story at Inter. Stear us back on track, back to the gut we have in 2010. It's true grit.
on the 8th May, 2014 at 1:28pm
One word required....

LEGENDARY!
on the 8th May, 2014 at 1:25pm
Absolute gent and legend. How he stayed with a team like Inter is beyond me. Much more suited to Milan really. Can you imagine a back four of:

Zanetti - Costacurta - Baresi - Maldini
on the 8th May, 2014 at 1:23pm

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