“Zanetti is better than all of us put together.” These are the words of Diego Maradona and it’s hard to argue.
Zanetti is certainly not the greatest footballer of all time but trying to pick fault with Il Capitano is a thankless task.
I started with his hair and it was a bad start.
I mean look at it! Jet black, mid length, swept over, no fuss, like a mid-century Hollywood heartthrob, Bellissima! And it’s been that way for his since time immemorial. We have to concede that both as a man and a footballer Javier Adelmar Zanetti is just that bit better than the rest of us.
Born in Buenos Aires to parents of Italian origin and humble social status he got to the top the hard way. But the fact that Zanetti is self made will come as no surprise to anyone who saw anything of him and his career.
Knock backs came early on from local side Independiente who cited young Javier’s slight physique as the barrier to a deal.
He eventually got his break with second division side Talleres RD with whom he played one season before switching to Banfield in 1993. It was there at the Estadio Florencio Sola that Zanetti first displayed the footballing loyalty for which he would become famed when he shunned the advances of Boca and Inter in favour of another season with Banfield.
Industrious, calm and astute on and off the pitch the right back made the move to Europe in 1995 arriving at the San Siro as the first signing of the Morrati era.
Zanetti spent 19 years all in all stretching his tireless legs across the San Siro’s hallowed turf. Scudetto’s were won and lost, managers came and went, swathes of players passed through the gates of Inter’s training complex Centro Sportivo Angelo Moratti but Zanetti and his hair remained the constant, always ready to serve I Nerazzurri. Robbie Keane to Alvaro Recoba, Mario Balotelli to Marco Materazzi, they came, some shone, some flopped, all moved on, but Javier and his hair remained.
In 2001, his sixth season in blue and black, fellow Argentine Hector Cuper finally officially made Il Capitano… Il Capitano after two years of Zanetti wearing the armband in place a constantly crocked Ronaldo. Javier’s early years at Inter yielded little in the way of silverware. The club’s 1998 Uefa Cup win proving to be the sum total of the right back’s first decade in Lombardy.
But the silverware soon came rolling in. A perfect storm of Calciopoli and some shrewd business from Inter resulted in the club embarking on a staggering period of dominance. From the first scudetto awarded to them after Juve and just about everyone else got done for match fixing I Nerazzurri collected 13 trophies and Zanetti was at the heart of it all.
Having stayed loyal in the face of offers from Barca, Real and Man United, a period which saw Zanetti lift coppa after coppa above his head was just reward for their captain.
The 2009/10 season was the highlight of Zanetti’s career and arguably the pinnacle of Inter’s long history. Under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, then a man at the top of his game and almost indisputably the best manager in the world, Inter won the treble- the first and last Italian side to do so. Zanetti and Mourinho hit it off. Il Capitano, by this time playing in central midfield to accommodate Maicon at right back, started 51 times for Inter that season, more than any other player.
Javier Zanetti played 615 times for Inter, a club record. As captain he lead the club through a decade steeped in silverware, winning five Serie A’s, four Coppa Italia’s, a Champions League and a Club World Cup.
When he retired in 2014, Inter’s number four shirt joined him. It’s easy to make comparisons to Zanetti’s cross city counterpart Paolo Maldini. Both served their Milan clubs with passion, class and distinction and both have secured places in the hearts of their fans and the pages of history books. But unlike Maldini, born in Milan and the son of a Rossoneri captain, Zanetti started life at Inter with it all to do. Javier arrived as an Argentine and retired as the blue and black half of Milan’s favourite son.