Javier Zanetti looked back over his 19-year Inter career, including Jose Mourinho, being “angry” with Roy Hodgson and injury.
The captain is hanging up his boots this summer and waved an emotional farewell to the Nerazzurri fans at San Siro last week.
He sat down with Inter Channel to discuss his history and where he got the nickname Pupi.
“When I arrived at Talleres in 1991 there were many called Javier, so our Coach – who knew my brother and that his nickname was Pupi – started calling me that too.”
At the same club he met his wife Paula, who played for the Talleres basketball team, before moving on through Banfield where he got the nickname ‘El Tractor.’
“Inter was a surprise for me. I imagined after Banfield I would go to a big club in Argentina, but Inter came along.
“At the age of 19-20, it was a huge challenge and I was full of doubt, not knowing if I was ready for this new opportunity. They saw me as a promising full-back, but I was presented at the same time as Rambert, who arrived as top scorer.
“The greatest thing is that the club immediately made me feel at home. Coach Ottavio Bianchi asked me where I preferred to play and Roberto Carlos was already on the left, so we opted for the right. He put a lot of faith in me.”
Zanetti was always a faithful servant for Inter, but admits he didn’t get along with all the tacticians.
“I was angry when Hodgson substituted me in the UEFA Cup Final at San Siro. I didn’t understand the moment, but now I realise it was a mistake. I cared so much about that Final and being taken off at the end irritated me.
“Everyone blew that row with Roy out of proportion. We have a great rapport even today and we joke about it now. Unfortunately, the Final did not go our way.”
The Nerazzurri did better in another UEFA Cup Final, beating Lazio to lift the trophy in Paris.
“It was extraordinary to reach the Final two years in a row. We had this great chance against another Italian club. It was my first international trophy and to see my father crying with joy in the stands was wonderful.”
After that, Inter went through a troubled period with a succession of different Coaches, many of them fired by President Massimo Moratti.
“Gigi Simoni was like a father to us and the Final in Paris was a great victory. In Serie A things didn’t go the same way. The Scudetto was in the balance against Juventus and to see an objective like that disappear for such an evident penalty incident created a lot of anger in us.
“Marcello Lippi had great expectations around him at the time and very important players arrived. The start was very good, then we lost our way and were unable to amalgamate all these ideas, so the season went badly.
“It was a tricky year with Marco Tardelli, very difficult with many young players and a bad position in the table. It wasn’t easy to fix the situation, as my characteristics didn’t suit his ideas, but fortunately I played all the time anyway.
“At the end of that season I had the opportunity to leave, but I stayed, which was what I always wanted.
“I didn’t know Hector Cuper, as we only met in the airport before pre-season training and I didn’t know what my future would be.
“He said he still wanted to count on me, so I called Moratti to understand my situation and I was told nobody wanted to sell me. Cuper was very important, even if at the end he didn’t win anything. With him we started the change at Inter.
“Roberto Mancini was an extraordinary player, tough to face, but he managed to impose his ideas. We managed to begin a great era with Mancio, as we started working to play good football that would make the fans happy.”
Then came Jose Mourinho, who would take Inter on to the Treble.
“In his first year we won the Scudetto. He gave us his great mentality and in every arena we walked into his strength prevailed,” explained Zanetti.
“Great players arrived, but the year before the elimination to Manchester United taught us something. 2009-10 was a difficult campaign, as we were out in the first half against Dinamo and Mou told us he wanted to risk with many strikers on the field.
“Wesley Sneijder scored and at that moment we realised something could push us on to fight with the other big clubs.
“Against Chelsea we fought for qualification in London and Mou told us to be wary of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. By limiting them, we’d have won the game.
“The last month was exhilarating, but just as we won everything, we could’ve lost everything too. Talking to Moratti we remember the game with Siena for the Scudetto and the whole year was so tough.
“The Champions League Final in Madrid seemed as if it had been written for us. It was a magnificent night, I remember the warm-up and the Nerazzurri section was packed. I said to myself: ‘We can’t lose.’
“It was my 700th game for Inter and my first at the Bernabeu. It felt like a film and fortunately one with a happy ending. After so many years this unique moment had come and fortunately I was able to lift the cup as captain. We were aware of our strength.”
Mourinho left, but Inter went on to win the Club World Cup under Rafa Benitez before he was replaced by Leonardo.
Zanetti’s career looked to be over when he ruptured his Achilles tendon at the age of 39, but Pupi is tough to knock down.
“Many thought that was the end of my career, but I always wanted to recover in order to prove I could still play. I promised myself I would step on to the field once more in front of my fans and the comeback against Livorno was special. After that match I felt fully realised.”
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