In an increasingly cynical and subservient football world, there are few players who can say they have played for the same club for 19 years. Javier Zanetti’s career at Inter Milan will go down as one of the most loyal in modern football. The Argentine captained the Neroazzurri for 15 years, becoming the clubs most successful player in history.
Javier Zanetti was born on August 10th, 1973 in Bueno Aires Argentina. At just 5 years old, he fell in love with the game of football while watching Kempes and Passarella with the 1978 World Cup in his home country. In 1992 Zanetti debuted in the Argentine 3rd division for Talleres de Remedios de Escalada. By the following year, Zanetti was starting for Banfield in the first division, scoring his first goal against Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario.
In the summer of 1995, Zanetti began a journey for Italian giants Inter Milan that would last for a record 859 matches. In 1998 Zanetti won his first trophy for Inter Milan after scoring their second goal in the 1998 UEFA cup Final against Lazio. The 1999 season saw him gain captaincy taking over for Inter’s other most capped player Giuseppe Bergomi.
After 7 straight unsuccessful seasons, Inter finally reached decent form winning the Coppa Italia in 2005. From there, they went on the clubs greatest run in history, winning three Cups of Italy, one super cup, four Scudetti, and the Champions League between the 2005 and 2010. Perhaps his most amazing record came on December 3rd, 2011 when he was sent off against Udinese for the first time in 12 seasons.
Zanetti lifting the cup after the 2010 Champions League Final
Nicknamed El Tractror, Zanetti was most known for his tireless runs up and down the wings. Football fans far and wide respected Zanetti for his leadership and calm demeaner on the pitch. Throughout his career, the Inter captain passed from right offensive winger, to mid-field, and eventually as a sweeper or defensive midfielder. Reporters once told Roberto Baggio that Zanetti regarded him as an idol, to which Baggio responded, “He wants to be Baggio? I want to be him, he's fantastic, indestructible!” Throughout his career, Zanetti garnered the respect of coaches, players and fans alike. However, his work rate on the field becomes even more impressive when one considers the social initiatives he supported off of it.
In 2002, Zanetti established the P.U.P.I. foundation aimed at helping socially disadvantaged children in Buenos Aires. In 2006 he was elected ambassador of an orphanage in Argentina, and in 2009 Zanetti gave his testimonial at the Special Olympics. In 2012 the Gazzetta dello Sport awarded Zanetti with the “Social Responsibility” award, given to athletes who go beyond their call to help others.
Javier Zanetti ended his time at Inter Milan in 2014, where his number was subsequently retired and he was appointed Vice President for the next two years. The Inter number 4 led by example, and left behind a legacy that the Neroazzurri may never see filled again. His influence both on and off the pitch is a rarity in the modern game, one that Inter fans will forever be proud of.