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.

Transfer rumor roundup: PL duo eyeing Asensio and more

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The ongoing World Cup hasn’t halted the transfer talk across global soccer, and on Wednesday there are a number of potentially intriguing storylines.


Two Premier League sides are chasing Real Madrid attacker Marco Asensio, including Chelsea and Manchester United, while they will have to battle Paris Saint-Germain as well.

Although Asensio is prepared to stay in Spain next season, he wants to be assured of playing time under new manager Julen Lopetegui, who recently joined the club.

The 22-year-old scored 11 goals in all competitions last season for Los Blancos.


Juventus continues to have several players at the center of transfer rumors, and Miralem Pjanic is a name that keeps popping up.

The midfielder won’t come cheap though, with Juve reportedly set to ask for $92.6 million in the event that a club wants to acquire Pjanic.

Barcelona is rumored to be seeking a move for Pjanic with Andres Iniesta now heading to Vissel Kobe in the J-League.


New Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri is reportedly looking to bring several of his former Napoli players to Stamford Bridge, including Belgium star Dries Mertens.

The Blues are seeking more attacking options ahead of the fall, and the veteran Mertens has become a proven commodity in front of goal over the course of his Serie A career.

Uruguay reaches Round of 16 courtesy of Suarez

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The first two nations have advanced to the knockout phase out of Group A.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Uruguay reached the Round of 16 on Wednesday with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia, who has been eliminated from the 2018 World Cup.

Hosts Russia will also reach the knockout rounds with the Uruguay win, thus eliminating Egypt as well.

The Barcelona striker gave Uruguay the lead in the 23rd minute, after a poor read from Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais.

Suarez was given a wide-open finish at the far post off the corner kick for his first goal at the World Cup. The 31-year-old had scored a combined five goals during his last two World Cup appearances (2010 & 2014).

The Uruguyans dictated the tempo throughout much of the match, but Saudi Arabia’s back line held strong for the majority of the game.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Uruguay will close out group play against Group A leaders and hosts Russia on June 25, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt will tango that same day.

Video: Goalkeeping error grants Suarez, Uruguay gift

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Luis Suarez was clearly upset with his lack of finishing in Uruguay’s opener last Friday, but the Barcelona man is finally on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup.

[MORE: Ronaldo’s early header gives Portugal win over Morocco ]

The veteran striker gave Uruguay the lead in the 23rd minute after a close-range finish off of a corner kick.

Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais came out to try and collect the cross, however, he was slow in his reaction, allowing the ball to slip through to Suarez for the easy finish.

The Uruguayans will reach the Round of 16 with one match remaining if they hold on to their 1-0 lead.

NZ women’s coach placed on leave after player complaints

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) The coach of New Zealand’s women’s football team has been placed on leave pending an investigation of complaints about his conduct from members of the national team.

[ MORE: Senegal holds off late Poland charge for Group H win ]

The complaints centered around tactics Andreas Heraf used in a recent home international against Japan and his comments to media after that match. Players reportedly objected to the defensive nature of Heraf’s tactics in the 3-1 loss.

New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin said at a news conference on Wednesday that his organization had received a letter from the New Zealand Professional Footballers Association, containing letters of complaint from 13 national team members.

Defending his approach at a news conference after the match, Heraf said the New Zealand players would never have the “quality” to compete with a team of Japan’s ability and might have lost 8-0 if they had not adopted a defensive style.

Further reports have emerged of player concerns about Heraf’s behavior, including allegations of bullying.

Martin was repeatedly questioned at the news conference about when New Zealand Football first had notice of the players’ concerns about Heraf. He insisted he was not aware of any problems until the letter from the NZPFA containing the players’ complaints was released on Monday.

In a statement, New Zealand Football Chairman Deryck Shaw said player welfare was “of utmost importance.”

“We hold player welfare as a matter of utmost importance and that is why we are conducting a thorough, independent review. We want to ensure we better understand these issues in an objective review. There is no place for inappropriate behavior of any kind with New Zealand Football.”