“The real football icon.” – Roberto Mancini
Inter veteran Javier Zanetti was meant to grace the Serie A with his presence once more after a near career-ending injury in 2013.
The veteran wing-back, aged 39 at the time, ruptured his Achilles tendon in April’s 1-0 defeat to Palermo and was keen to bounce back better than ever.
And after a check up he believed he would be back in training with the rest of Walter Mazzarri’s troops by the end of October.
During his downtime, he signed a one-year contract extension that would take him past his 40th birthday and close to two decades with the club.
Not bad for a player that was once rejected by Independiente at an early age and who since went on to become one of Argentina’s greatest icons.
After agreeing on new terms he applauded Inter for standing by him and said: “They have shown once again their belief in me and my passion for Inter.”
“I am doing everything I can to come back fit and healthy and to be ready for the coach and my teammates.”
So the love affair between Zanetti and Inter continued with the Argentine, who club owner Massimo Moratti once described as ‘his best ever signing’, would continue well beyond his playing days after he confessed to being keen on coaching.
Zanetti was a relic from a bygone era, a talented player who has stayed with the club he loves despite lucrative contract offers to move.
His decision to stay at the San Siro was rewarded with trophies galore and he bypassed Guiseppe Bergomi as their all time appearance holder.
On and off the field he was the model professional and this helped prolong his illustrious playing career, and will help write his name in the annals of Serie A and Inter’s history.
In his spare time he helps spearhead Fundación PUPI, a charity that helps the poorest children in Argentina, and with former teammate Esteban Cambiasso, another charity, Leoni di Potrero, which focuses on aiding youngsters with social and motor coordination difficulties.
And since Zanetti’s arrival in Milan in 1995, it has been all sweet rosemary and wine for him in the garden of the San Siro.
He was the club captain from August 1999, deployed and played across the defence and midfield with relative ease, and became the most capped Argentine player in history (143 caps), racking up numerous team and personal silverware and having played under 20 different managers during his time in Italy.
Interestingly enough, he already bypassed his older brother Sergio Zanetti’s playing career by two years after he retired from football in 2006 aged 38 – his last team were Swiss cracks FC Locarno, and coincidentally enough, Sergio was also once the Inter youth squad boss.
When Zanetti returned to first team action he was three months past his 40th birthday and was making his debut under Mazzarri – the 20th Inter manager in his time at the San Siro.
But his retirement was called and season 2013-14 would be his last before becoming a club Vice-President/Director of Football for two seasons [which was extended to the 2016-17 season].
His last home match in blue-and-black stripes was a 4-1 win against Lazio on 10 May 2014, when he entered the fray on 52 minutes with an armband naming all the players during his Inter career.
Retirement was officially set on the last day of the season when he played centre half in a 2-1 away loss against Chievo on 18 May.
His number four shirt was eventually retired by the club nearly a year later in a charity match that was the opener for the Expo 15 in Milan.
In the days of players moving for cash rather than the badge, Zanetti was a legendary figure who played for the badge and the love of the club, maybe John Terry or Steven Gerrard could have dibs on that title, but El Tractor definitely proved his worth in Milan.
Grazie per i ricordi, signore.
Javier Zanetti fact-file:
Born: 10 August 1972 in Buenos Aires, Argentina
• Playing career: Talleres (RE) (1991-92), Banfield (1992-95), Inter (1995-2014)
• International caps: Argentina (145), Argentina U23 (12)
• Honours (club): Inter: Scudetto (5), Coppa Italia (4), Supercoppa Italiana (4), Champions League (1), UEFA Cup (1), FIFA Club World Cup (1)
• Honours (international): Pan American Games (1)