A new era dawns for Inter as Coach Andrea Stramaccioni rejuvenates the squad and attempts to construct a spirited team in his own style - spirited, determined and youthful.
Yet, amid the carnival of gilded youth that is the modern game, it is sometimes easy to forget that experience also counts for something, regarding footballing endeavour. In the Nerazzurri’s case no-one is more qualified than Javier Zanetti, whose 798 competitive games played for the club, before his 39th birthday next week, renders him unique in Serie A.
Stramaccioni’s squad going into 2012-13 has emerged from a summer that has witnessed several veteran protagonists depart. It is now an intriguing and exciting blend of new signings, loanees and primavera graduates. If you like, a sort of footballing version of the traditional wedding custom, ‘Something old, something new. Something borrowed, something blue.’
The old is ably represented almost singularly now by Zanetti, who is nearly three older than his Coach. However, if he plays anything like he did last night in the 3-0 Europa League defeat of Hajduk Split, then he can still contribute buckets to his beloved Beneamata.
“In spite of my age, I feel I’m in good shape and want to do my bit for the team,” he insisted this week. “I’ll be the first to step down if I realise I can’t keep up the pace. There’s talk of a young team and I agree completely. Those of us who have more experience will be able to give the younger players a hand to improve.”
It is apparent that he is not the long-term solution in the new-style 4-2-3-1 formation, but his versatility on both flanks as a defender or a midfielder and his propensity in central midfield will provide more time to prepare the team for when he inevitably hang up his boots. Before then his standing in the dressing room also means he can be Strama’s conduit to the players on and off the pitch.
Pupi also wants to make up for the Nerazzurri’s disappointing sixth place last season and believes the new squad is good enough to challenge for the Scudetto. “We want to start off again as soon as possible and have a great season. We’ll be a team with clear ideas and it is our firm intention to contend for the title,” he added.
El Tractor is out of contract next June, two months short of his 40th birthday, yet his predecessor Beppe Bergomi, still thinks his engine can keep ticking over. “Once I joked about him playing until he was 50,” remarked the legendary defender. “Now I seriously believe that he can play until he's 45. His fitness is intact and like Paolo Maldini, he will decide when and why to quit football. He is a superman.”
Well, although not quite Clark Kent, he does have his secret, and it is dedication. “I don't mess around when it comes to fitness care,” he says. “Also, the harmony I find at home with my beautiful family helps me concentrate solely about football. My secret is to train as intensively as I can, if possible, with the same level of intensity you experience in a real match and as long as my body responds, I will keep on playing.”
And although Javier may no longer be youthful he is still certainly determined and spirited. Former Inter Coach Jose Mourinho put it best when he said: “To me Zanetti represents the joy of living, the joy of making football your job every morning. He is the smile, the life force, the passion for training, the good cheer for everyone who works with him.”