Javier Zanetti: Milkman, bricklayer and Inter Milan Legend

Stuart Plant

Italy 1995, Inter Milan’s new owner Massimo Morrati was sent a scouting video. Unbeknown to the South American scout, Morrati would end up picking an entirely different player to sign. Why? Because the constant running from one end of the pitch to the other caught his eye instantly. It was to be his first official signing as owner of the club. It was none other than Javier Zanetti.

Sometimes, just sometimes, the most fantastic of things can come about by pure chance; that is exactly how Javier Zanetti’s God-like stature with Inter Milan came to be from the humblest of beginnings.

Early Days

Zanetti was born and raised in one of Bueno Aries’ roughest districts, Dock Sud. His father a bricklayer, his mother a cleaner, it was most certainly a working-class childhood. Some years after Zanetti had fallen in love with the beautiful game, he decided to go for trials with his local club, Club Atlético Independiente in 1989.

After only a matter of weeks of trials, the coaches at Independiente rejected Zanetti for his small stature and lack of physicality in training and in games. Not one to be arrogant, Zanetti accepted the decision and focused on school. As well as focusing on his studies, he would also wake up early in the morning to deliver milk in his town, then, go on to work with his father.

Three years after being told he wasn’t good enough, Zanetti joined second division team Talleres de Remedios de Escalada where he stayed for one season, before joining Banfield, a first division team in Argentina. Zanetti went on to make his debut, as an ‘old’ 20-year-old, against River Plate.

Zanetti for Talleres – Image Source: Twitter

Having turned down advances from both of Argentina’s giants in River Plate and Boca Juniors, Inter Milan came calling. The rest, as they say, is history.

Record-Breaking Zanetti

Zanetti amassed an incredible sixteen trophies during his nineteen-year career with Inter. Five Serie A titles. Four Coppa Italia’s. Four pre-season Super Cups. One Champions League. One UEFA Cup. One Club World Cup. Add in that he also won the treble at the ripe old age of 36; his career paints an astonishing picture.

During his 19 years with Inter, Zanetti saw the revolving managerial door chew up and spit out over 20 managers. More number crunching, and, Zanetti is the number one out-field player in history for appearances made. A number which stands at well over the 1,000 mark. The only record which may now be out of his hands is his international appearances. Two successive snubs for the last two World Cups means that his name sake, Mascherano, is the leading candidate to rip that title away from him in the future.

Dedicated From Start To Finish

Ask anyone who was a friend, acquaintance, family member of teammate. There’s one answer. It’s that he never stopped. Jose Mourinho once claimed that he’d hear he was turning up for training on days off at Inter, training, then running home! More bizarre anecdotes of the sheer dedication of the man include; going for a run before his wedding reception, and, using his wife as a barbell when she had the nerve to book a holiday without a gym.

It is these unknown anecdotal pieces which help us really piece together how this man defied age. His dedication throughout his early, and mid stages of his footballing career meant that he was only adding to his longevity as a player. This mindset coupled with his gentlemanly conduct on the pitch had only served to heighten the legend of Zanetti.

Try and find one person with one bad thing (other than him scoring that goal in France ’98…) to say about him. Not one pundit nor ex-footballer ever speaks ill of him. This is only testament to this man’s personality both on and off the pitch.

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If you don’t believe that Zanetti was a freak in terms of keeping himself at optimum fitness…out of his 19 years at Inter did he rack up under 30 appearances? Maybe five or six? More? No. One. One season he failed to hit the 30 appearances mark. In his last season too, unfortunately, because of a ruptured achilles injury. With retirement on the horizon though, he pushed on. Getting back and fit way ahead of schedule, and, still managing 13 league appearances.

“I just want to play at least once more in front of the Inter fans, and I would hope it could be more than once,” – Zanetti on coming back from injury.

Dogged and determined even at 39. He managed to come back in six months in order to be fit and available for his farewell at the end of the season. Deep down he knew he’d get back, because, he desperately wanted to go out on his terms. Playing his heart out until the very end.

For a player who played anywhere along the back four and in midfield, it is incredible if not unbelievable that he managed to keep up with an ever modernising game. All the while, his performance levels never dipped. Also, his looks never dipped either, check out this remarkable Panini sticker collection of Zanetti over the years. The curious case of Javier Zanetti…

Image source; Whoateallthepies

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Measure Of the Man

It’s always interesting to see what people say when a legend of the game retires. It often shows to a greater degree they impact they’ve had on the game and those around them. So, just how did Zanetti go down with those around him? Two stalwarts for their respective clubs only had good words for him.

Franceso Totti took to his personal site to say Zanetti was one of the:

“Real champions who will remain in the history of this sport for their behaviour, professionalism and obviously their attachment to the jersey.”

Paolo Maldini, AC Milan rival for Zanetti, put it brilliantly calling him his:

“Most respected enemy.”

Although he unceremoniously snubbed Zanetti in the most recent World Cup, the maverick that is Diego Maradona dubbed him:

“Better than all of us put together.”

It’s words from the man himself and Inter’s owner Erick Thohir that really hit home the deepest and highlight just what a special man and player Zanetti was, and, will continue to be:

Of all the Inter players who will step onto the field, there is one number you will not see them wearing – No. 4. 4 is forever. Forever yours. You and your No. 4 are Inter forever.”

The man, the legend, that is Javier Zanetti would make his San Siro bow in the 4-1 win over Lazio. Three months shy of his 40th birthday, he would make his final appearance. Coming on as a late sub away to Chievo Verona where Inter, frustratingly, lost. Now, still part of his beloved Inter Milan, with a role on the board of directors the legend of Zanetti will live on.

“My only desire was to defend and honour the Inter jersey in any country all over the world. I learned to love it thanks to you. I ask you to love this club, just as I will love it forever. Thank you for having loved me. I truly love you.”

– Javier Zanetti.

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