Was Javier Zanetti the “last gentleman in soccer?” No, but let’s talk

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The Classical’s Mike Piellucci pens a mighty tribute to retiring Inter Milan captain Javier Zanetti, the Argentine who’s worn the club armband since 1999.

You read that right. And his 858 matches for the club isn’t far behind in terms of wow factor.

And over those many years with Inter, Zanetti has cultivated the reputation of a no-nonsense player willing to do the little and big things right for his club.

It wasn’t just an “on-the-field” thing, as Zanetti was beloved by his club.

From The Classical:

For the longest time, Zanetti and Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs – who, fittingly enough, also just retired – were regarded as two of a kind: unblemished totems of What Soccer Should Be. They were incredibly skilled, preposterously loyal, uncommonly dignified, not just in sportswriterly word but in actual deed. When word leaked that Giggs cheated on his wife with a Welsh model – and apparently followed it up by impregnating his brother’s wife – this club’s membership shrank to one. Zanetti came to be regarded as the last gentleman in soccer, that rare person worthy of belief in the increasingly sordid world of professional sports.

Which is all pretty ridiculous, honestly. Javier Zanetti is hardly the only professional athlete who is a nice dude, gives a (expletive) about the world around him and sleeps only with the woman he’s married to. But the idea of it, the idea of Zanetti, is potent all the same. Whatever we might wish him to be or represent, there really is an unassailably genteel aura about him, its very existence being an achievement irrespective of context.

The point for me isn’t that Zanetti is an awesome guy capable of converting the heathens — which is a pretty good point — rather that the world of soccer has taken us to a point where someone who stays faithful to his wife and goes about his business as a human with pretty decent dedication feels unrivaled.

Not (just) taking a shot at society here, but have social media, paparazzi and general sports overload really taken us to a spot where being a good person is the new shock wave of sport? “He’s handsome and loyal AND A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE? DO YOU BELIEVE THIS GUY RIGHT HERE?!?”

In any event, cheers to Zanetti and those — like Miralem Pjanic last week — willing to play the role of examples well (especially considering how much we tend to expect from such folks). And here’s to Piellucci for the think piece.

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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