The crowning moment of Javier Zanetti’s 15-year association with Inter Milan came last May, when he captained the club to the UEFA Champions League title, a triumph that also brought with it a place at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010.
Having endured more than a few setbacks with I Nerazzurri over the years, the durable Argentinian full-back had every reason to savour that success and is looking forward to yet more silverware when the Italians make the trip to Abu Dhabi next month. As well as discussing that objective in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Zanetti also looks back at the highs and lows of his career and reveals the secret behind his longevity.
FIFA.com: Javier you signed for Inter as a 22-year-old back in 1995 and here you are 15 years later about to take part in the FIFA Club World Cup™. Did you ever lose hope of playing in the competition one day?
Javier Zanetti: No, never. Obviously I knew it would be difficult because you have to win the UEFA Champions League just to qualify. All the same, I felt Inter’s time would come sooner or later and I’ve been proven right.
Fifteen years is a long time. There have obviously been some ups and downs along the way.
We’ve had some rough patches but we’ve knuckled down, got through them and come out all the stronger for it. My relationship with the club has always been strong, although 2000, when we went through four coaches in what was a chaotic year, was probably the hardest time for me.
Has Inter’s recent success changed the atmosphere at the club? The blend between you and your fellow Argentinians [Diego Milito, Walter Samuel and Esteban Cambiasso] and the Brazilian contingent [Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio and new signing Coutinho] seems to be a winning one.
The atmosphere’s always been the same. We’re like one big family that’s enjoying life and wants to keep on winning things, starting with the Club World Cup. Everyone’s got an important role to play here and we all do our bit, no matter which country we come from. As for me, well I’ve been here a long time and like all real Inter fans, I think I’ve earned the right to enjoy and savour everything we’ve achieved after so much suffering.
You’ve played over 700 games with Inter and have won a record number of caps for Argentina. How have you managed to keep going all this time?
You have to have faith in yourself, be very professional and have that little bit of luck to keep clear of injury. My advice to young players would be to prepare really well during the week because it’s when you’re out on the pitch that you notice all the work you put in on the training ground. Of course, there are times when your legs feel fresh and others when they don’t respond that well. This game’s all about psychology though. A good footballer always uses his head.
Of all the games you’ve played with Inter, which one stands out the most?
The 1998 UEFA Cup final against Lazio at the Parc des Princes. That was my first trophy with the club and I was also lucky enough to get on the scoresheet that night. Obviously I’ll never forget that night in Madrid last May when we beat Bayern Munich. I’ll always be proud of the moment when I entered the history of the game by lifting the trophy as captain.
Aside from holding the trophy aloft do you have any special memories of beating Bayern?
I still get emotional when I think about the moment we went out on the pitch to warm up. It was a unique feeling to see all our fans behind the goal, packing the stands of that magnificent stadium. Then when I held the cup up I just did things off the cuff. I hadn’t prepared anything. It’s the kind of moment you always dream about but when it actually happens you do things instinctively. I hope I get the chance again in Abu Dhabi.
You have made a record number of appearances for Argentina but missed the last two FIFA World Cup™ finals. Which of those two absences hurt the most?
I felt the same pain on both occasions. I was more than ready to represent my country in 2006 and this year was no different. But it wasn’t my decision and that’s why I’ve always felt relaxed about. All I know is that I did my very best and that I did enough to merit a place.
Tell us a little bit about three of your former team-mates at Inter: Roberto Baggio, Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Roberto Baggio is a great friend of mine. I’m proud to know him and to have played with him and I think he was an outstanding player, the best Italian the game has ever seen. Ronaldo was a force of nature who could go out and win games on his own. I was never able to stop him in training. And Ibrahimovic is a player who can change games just with his physique and strength of character.
Which great player would you like to play with but haven’t had the chance yet?
I think I’ve played with virtually all the greats in the game, which has really helped me develop as a footballer. That said, I’ve only played with Lionel Messi for the national side and I’d love to run out with him for Inter one day.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I think I’ll still be at Inter, although I probably won’t be on the pitch alongside Messi or whoever. I’d like to think I’ll have an important position here, but I can’t say what it would be. All I can say is that I want to stay with the Nerazzurri family. Italy and this club are part of me now, and I want to take Inter to the top of the world in December.