Javier Zanetti, A Legend – What They Said

June 3, 2014 12:00
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SempreInter.com’s editorialist Sam Olsen delivers a tribute to Javier Zanetti from the mouths of some of football’s greatest players and managers. 

Over the decades that Javier Zanetti has been patrolling the right touchline or roaming the centre of the pitch he has earnt an ever growing number of admirers who marvelled at the stamina, reading of the game and his passion for the blue and black of his team. His consistency was the mark of his greatness; many cannot remember him having a back game. Whether it was shutting some of the greatest players seen in the game out of a match defensively, who can forget his the second leg against Barcelona at Camp Nou, when a 36 year old Zanetti kept the world’s greatest player Lionel Messi firmly tucked in his pocket; or making one of his trademark slaloming runs down the sideline, leaving a trail of confused and exacerbated opponents in his wake, Zanetti was indomitable for every one of his seasons at Internazionale.

But perhaps the most special thing about the el Capitano was not what he did on the pitch, although this was remarkable, it was who he was on and off it which made the biggest impression on virtually all who were lucky enough to be associated with him. He was the epitomy of fair play, never speaking badly of opponent or referee but preferring to keep such thoughts, if indeed he had them, to his own council. His is dignified in both defeat and victory, savouring the moments such as the unforgettable 2010 Champions League final with infinite passion but without using it as a podium to prove a point to others. His composure, style and condition all speak of a man who is the utmost professional, who appreciates every single day that he lives this life that as a young man he could only dream of.

Then there is his hair, the hair that somehow never seems to have even a strand out of place, no matter how many tackles he goes into or kilometres he runs. Like Sampson it is as if his hair holds the secret of his powers, his youthful exuberance. His influence in the world of football was such that over the years some of the greats have paid homage to the man who will soon be making his final home appearance for Internazionale before making a new debut, this time behind the scenes at the club he loves so much. Here are some of the things said about this man throughout the years:

Ryan Giggs: “The most difficult opponent to play against was Javier Zanetti. I faced Zanetti for the first time in the Champions League quarter finals in 1999, he was the right back and I was on the left. He impressed me with his qualities, his speed, power, intelligence and expertise. I played against him twice more and he was my most difficult opponent, a complete player.”

Jose Mourinho (after his first season in charge): “The player who surprised me the most was Zanetti. His passport cannot be telling the truth (claiming he is 35), it must be ten years out, he’s incredible.”

Alejandro Sabella (Argentine manager): “We’re all proud of him. He’s a great ambassador for the Argentine people and an example to follow. Javier is an exceptional player and an even better person.”

Adriano Galliani: “He is a symbol of Inter. Milan have always been a rival of Zanetti but we recognise what he has done. He is a player, like Kaka, who is a patriarch of football as a whole.”

Mircea Lucescu (Former Inter manager): “Zanetti is an extraordinary champion. A true great. He is not just a great player, but a great man. He was the one who helped me more than anyone when I was at Inter.”

Paolo Maldini: “He is my most respected enemy.”

Andrea Stramccioni:Zanetti is Inter’s guiding light (he) is not a normal player for Inter. Zanetti is Inter. He’s the captain that boasts a thousand record. I, for my part will only be able to thank him for what he has always given for the shirt, and for what he has done for me since I have arrived.”

Andrea Stramaccioni (before the captain’s 800th match) “The captain ought to be cloned because in my view he is not human, he is bionic.”

Yuto Nagatomo: “Zanetti is my point of reference, my model to follow, the person who takes care of me, gives me advice and tells me the way.”

Andrea Rannochia: “I have never seen any one day, I repeat any ONE DAY, when Zanetti was not cheerful or calm.”

Gianfelice Facchetti: “Zanetti is a timeless character. Extraordinary at being ordinary.”

Roberto Mancini: “I can say without a shadow of a doubt that every coach in the world would love to have a player like him, because of the professionalism and the quality he takes with him onto the pitch and because, apart from in goal he can play in any position. He is also an extremely upstanding individual, something that never goes amiss.”

Jose Mourinho: “It’s an honour to coach him. He has strength and character, these things make the difference in a player. Physically and mentally he doesn’t seem like a 35 year old man.”

Walter Mazzarri: “Zanetti has something special and you can see why he is a world class champion.”

Massimo Moratti (after Zanetti equalled Bergomi’s appearance record for the club): “He is a wonderful person, an equally wonderful athlete and I am happy he is so loved, because he deserves it.”

Mattia de Sciglio (after 2013 Milan derby): “I was able to exploit the fact that Yuto Nagatomo was centered to follow El Shaarawy and that Fredy Guarin was in difficulty defensively. Then in the second half here came Javier Zanetti who defended better and I had less space.”

Sully Muntari: “I have known Zanetti for some time and the secret is how he is taking care of his body, really extraordinary at 39 years old. He can keep going for another four or five years.”

Roberto Baggio: “How do you explain Zanetti? He is special. He has such a strong nature and nowadays there aren’t many players like him. He is extraordinary and I have never heard him speak badly of anyone. One day he told me that he wanted to be like me. I respond now by saying that I would have liked to be like him.”

Massimo Moratti: “Even when he is tired he still manages to maintain his dignity, his desire, the pride of a professional player such as I do not think there has ever been.”

Alvaro Recoba: “I played together with Javier for many years and already at 22-23 he was a bull and did everything he needed to become a professional player, everything. I do not know of another player who does what he does.”

Estrban Cambiasso: “He is supernatural. The most surprising thing is not the amount that he runs in games and in training, that is a lot, but it is the rate of recovery.”

Ivan Cordoba: “He is a great person, there is a friendship with him that goes beyond football.”

Luigi Garlando (Italian Journalist): “Javier Zanetti is a figurine of a saint which every father would put in the hand of his son, regardless of the situation: Play like him, behave like him. The Inter captain has long been the yardstick for young players as they move into the sport. His most valuable lesson is the dignified acceptance of defeat and the proud effort to start again.”

Diego Simeone: “Pupi. I like you very much, you know, and I have great admiration for all that you continue to do at Inter.”

Diego Milito: “Zanetti? It is difficult to find the right words for him, he is an example both on and off the field and we Argentines must be very proud of him, because he has made the history of this club.”

Phil Neville: “Zanetti of Inter is one of my favourite players of all time. Plays every game, covers every role.”