Italian Serie A

Argentina legend Javier Zanetti gives away the secret to his playing longevity as he launches Inter Academy

Long-serving Argentine star, who led the Italian club to the treble in 2010, wants kids to learn more than just playing good football to reach the top

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 8:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 11:25pm

Passion and commitment. These are the two most important elements needed to stay on top of the game – for as long as possible. Just ask Inter Milan legend Javier Zanetti, the Argentine star who managed to stretch his incredible playing career into his forties.

Zanetti, who was in Hong Kong to launch the Inter Academy, enjoyed playing at the highest level before finally hanging up his boots a few months short of his 41st birthday with the club he had the most success with.

The former Inter captain, now vice president of the Italian club, is fifth on the list of players in history with the most career appearances – 1,114 official games.

“You need passion and commitment in your sport or else you will never survive that long,” said Zanetti at a press conference to promote the Inter Academy. “Of course you also have to give it your best shot and be responsible for your own behaviour both on and off the field before you can fully enjoy the game for such a long period of time.”

When Inter lifted the Champions League trophy with a 2–0 win over Bayern Munich, of Germany, in the 2010 final, Zanetti had made his 700th appearance for Inter, making him the first player to captain an Italian club to a treble – the Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League – at 37 years and 71 days.

Part of an Inter squad who played for 19 seasons, racking up 858 appearances across all competitions, Zanetti, is the club’s longest-tenured player, and the first overall – surpassing Giuseppe Bergomi (758) – on the all-time list of Inter players making the most appearances for their club.

Throughout his long and distinguished career with Inter, Zanetti won 16 trophies, 15 times as the team captain and that includes five Serie A titles and four Italian Cups.

Zanetti was the most capped Argentina international until June when Javier Mascherano beat his mark by making his 144th appearance against Iceland during the World Cup in Russia.

With Argentina failing to impress in Russia, team manager Jorge Sampaoli quit by mutual consent following their 4-3 defeat by France in the round of 16. Zanetti was favourite to replace Sampaoli but former team manager Alejandro Sabella was given the nod instead.

Zanetti, however, never considered himself a candidate for the job, saying he preferred working with his favourite club, Inter.

“It wasn’t my target to work as Argentina team manager,” the former defensive midfielder, now 44 said. “I am very happy working with Inter, helping them build the club’s international relationship with both Fifa and Uefa, promoting the marketing side, its social responsibility activities as well as being involved with the club’s academy.

“But I would say whoever takes up the role as [Argentina] national team manager should be given more time to work with the players, not just one or two years, so that he can introduce changes to improving the team.”

The Inter Academy in Hong Kong has already recruited 200 boys and girls with training centres in Morse Park and Happy Valley under the motto “Men first, then champions”.

Zanetti said the purpose of setting up the academy was not to train local players to play for Inter in future, but to provide them with the opportunity to learn responsibilities such as respect for others, active participation in group life, exchanging ideas and sharing both victories and defeats.