Javier Zanetti

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.

Will Chelsea hand Argentine legend player/coach role at Stamford Bridge?

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Jose Mourinho has had plenty of trusted generals at each club he’s managed over the years, and one of those could join him at Chelsea this summer.

40-year-old Argentine defender Javier Zanetti, who has played for Serie A side Inter Milan for almost two decades, has been linked with a one-year playing deal at Stamford Bridge and the experienced stalwart could then move into a coaching role under Mourinho.

Zanetti turns 41 in the summer and that is when his contract with Inter runs out at the San Siro. He played for Mourinho for two seasons from 2008-10 and hoisted the UEFA Champions League title as the ‘Special One’s’ captain in 2010. Zanetti is deemed as a hero by Internazionale’s fans, after joining the club in 1995 from Argentine side Banfield. He can play in a variety of roles across defense and midfield and he’s racked up 851 appearances for Inter in a glittering career which includes five Serie A titles, four Coppa Italia’s, a UEFA Cup and a Champions League title.

For Argentina Zanetti has made 145 appearances, after retiring from the international scene in 2011, and has won two Copa America’s and appeared in three World Cups, but was remarkably left out of the last two Argentine squads for the 2006 and 2010 tournaments. Much to the bemusement of players, coaches and journalists across the globe.

Needless to say, he has bags of experience.

But would this be a great move for Mourinho? Playing wise, Chelsea obviously have a different mantra in Mourinho’s second-spell in charge as the emphasis has been on buying young players and developing their talent. Zanetti could still do a job, but its the potential for him to become a coach that seems more likely.

With Zanetti still making a few appearance for Inter this season, five so far, the Argentine stalwart is still in incredible shape and will gain the respect of Chelsea’s players across the board. For many years I’ve watched Zanetti with awe, as his reading of the game and positional sense is second to none. You have to think Chelsea’s young crop of defenders such as Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz will learn so much from Zanetti.

This screams of another masterstroke from Mourinho, if Zanetti does switch the San Siro for Stamford Bridge this summer.

Inter’s Zanetti leaves Palermo match with feared Achilles injury

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There’s never a good time to suffer an Achilles problem, but when you’re 39 years old, the injury could be career ending. Although it’s too early to say whether that fate awaits Inter Milan’s Javier Zanetti, it’s difficult to avoid indulging  scenarios after hearing news of the Argentine’s misfortune.

During Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Palermo, an otherwise normal first half challenge from Salvatore Aronica saw the Nerazzurri captain fall to the field at the Renzo Barbera, eventually stretched off. Although the club has not publicly confirmed any diagnosis, one report claims Inter Milan know Zanetti’s injured his Achilles. If true, Zanetti can be expected to miss the next eight months.

Well into his 18th year at the club after moving from Banfield in 1995, Zanetti has maintained a regular place in the Inter team despite turning 39 in August. In all competitions, he’s make 47 appearances this season. He has never played failed to play at least 34 games during his career in Milan, one that’s seen him set a series of club and league longevity records. With 145 appearances, Zanetti’s also the most-capped player in Argentine national team history.

Given that he’s still playing regularly, productively, and at a high-level, it may be a bit unfair to judge him by his age. He’s performing like man 15 years younger, and given his remarkable fitness and lack of previous injury problems, it might be best to call this an eight-month injury, refrain from assumptions, and see what happens.

But a 39-year-old man that’s won numerous league titles, a Champions League, and set an array of records has different motivations than a 24-year-old. The big fear here isn’t that Zanetti can’t come back – he surely can. The worry is that he won’t want to come back. And in that sense, we may have just seen the last of Javier Zanetti. We can only hope otherwise.

No moral victories as Napoli loses at Inter Milan

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If Roberto Mancini was indignant after his team’s loss to Manchester United, Walter Mazzarri had reason to be irate. Manchester City’s boss spent his post-match interviews insisting his team was the better side in Sunday’s Manchester Derby, but his team’s perceived dominance was nothing compared to the pressure Napoli maintained on Inter Milan throughout Sunday’s match at the San Siro.

Unfortunately, just like City, Napoli came up short, dropping the 2-1 result and a place in the table to Internazionale. The Nerazzurri now sit second in Serie A, four points behind Juventus. Napoli, the other main threat to Juve;s defense, trail by five.

The Azzurri controlled play from the opening kickoff only to see Inter stop prove feisty every time their visitors tried to initiate an attacking move. Napoli’s early energy was defused by a well-timed challenges, clearing balls into the combative midfield before Napoli’s Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami regained possession and cycled Napoli into a new attack.

That dynamic changed in the eighth minute when Inter’s Fredy Guarin latched onto a corner from the left, perfectly hitting a ball inside Morgan De Sanctis’s left post for the opener. On a restart from Antonio Cassano lofted well beyond the middle of the area, Guarin connected with the ball just before it hit the ground, an attempt we normally see end up in the stands. This time, Guarin drove the ball on goal while De Sanctis stopped short of the near post to try to maintain position for a cross-goal shot. The gap gave Gaurin enough room for the opener.

After the score, Inter’s combativeness went away. Starting both Javier Zanetti and Walter Gargano in the midfield of their 3-5-2 formation, the Nerazzurri stopped challenging and started parrying Napoli’s attacks, a stance that persisted through the end of the match. The posture allowed Mazzarri’s team to complete 83 percent of their passes while holding 63 percent of the ball, outshooting Inter 21 to 8 (total shots). Under siege in the second half, Inter leveraged a late first half goal from Diego Milito to hold out for a 2-1 win. Napoli’s only goal came from Edinson Cavani in the 54th minute.

It was Inter’s first big win since beating Juventus on Nov. 3, a victory that announced Andrea Strammacioni’s team as potential title contenders. Unfortunately, Inter regressed in the wake of that win, earning only one point in their next three matches. With a trip to Lazio on Saturday, Strammacioni can not afford to let his team fall into a similar lapse.

But given the way the game played out, Sunday’s result will be seen as more of a road bump for Napoli than a pedestal for Inter. The Nerazzurri merely illustrated their capacity, whereas Napoli, in the third year of their run as one of the better teams in Serie A, are looking for more than mere good performances.

After losing Ezequiel Lavezzi to Paris Saint-Germain this summer, there is a lingering feeling that the window for this team may be closing. Whether that end point is the sale of Cavani or the loss of more supporting parts, Napoli’s time is now. As such, games like Sunday’s at the San Siro – in front of a surprisingly supportive crowd, against a team that’s there to be beaten – are discouraging.

Napoli (and the rest of Italy) can take solace in the fact that Juventus doesn’t appear ready to pull away. While the gap to the holders may be five points, the Partenopei have every reason to believe they are just as capable as the leaders.

Going forward, they’ll need to convert strong performances like Sunday’s into full points if they’re to unseat the champions.