Interviews

The big interview: Javier Zanetti – "The free-kick against England? We'd practised it for four years!"

Javier Zanetti
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What kept you at Inter during your prime from 1999-2004 when they didn’t win anything? You must have had some offers from other clubs?
Timmay Baker, via Facebook
I was confident Inter’s moment would come. I’d speak about it with President [Massimo] Moratti and my family. Being captain, I wanted to leave an important mark on the club. Yes there were hard times, but the management showed trust in the squad being built and we worked together to achieve the goals we wanted for so long. When you sign for Inter, the club makes you think that you are part of a family, like a new son.

There were some firm rumours of Manchester United wanting to sign me in the late-90s

- Javier Zanett

Did you ever have the opportunity to move to England during your career?
Matthew Newton, via Twitter
Yes, there were some firm rumours of Manchester United wanting to sign me in the late-90s. I once saw Alex Ferguson in an airport while I was in England with my wife. We talked a bit about football, but I was always centered in my idea of staying with Inter, even in those complicated years, and it would have been difficult for me to go under any circumstances. It wasn’t just Man United, there were other big clubs as well, but my love for Inter always tipped the scales.

How frustrated were you about the Calciopoli scandal and the fact other clubs were attempting to gain an unfair advantage? Did you ever suspect anything, and did anyone approach you while you were playing in Serie A?
Jon Kingson, via Facebook
We just dedicated ourselves to playing football matches and, regardless of the suspicions elsewhere, we would always end up frustrated if we hadn’t achieved the results we were looking for. Then all of the truth came out and it was a very difficult chapter for Italian football. The whole world was watching, and I just hope that nothing like it ever happens again. It’s very important to remember what happened, but my feeling now is that it’s better to leave these negative episodes in the past, and instead try to focus on the league titles we did win and the way in which we won them.

What was it like being on the pitch for the Valencia vs Inter brawl in the Champions League in 2007? What caused it? Have you ever seen anything worse than that?
Chris Fleming, via Twitter
It was a tense game at the Mestalla. Valencia went through on away goals, and after the final whistle there was clear provocation on the pitch – that was what we were reacting to. After that, everybody saw what happened: one of the Valencia substitutes [David Navarro] hit Nicolas Burdisso, breaking his nose. On the pitch, it was the worst that I have ever experienced, as it was unexpected and really shouldn’t have happened, but it’s just an anecdote now.

What’s the best story you can tell us about playing with Zlatan at Inter?
Julia Woodford, via Facebook
Oh, what an incredible guy – a great character and a player that can make the difference. His three years with us were spectacular and full of trophies, but the thing I will never forget came in training. The ball was in the air, and he raised his leg over a team-mate’s head and killed the ball with the most delicate touch you have ever seen. He studied taekwondo or something, so his movements could surprise you. If you look at his height, you would think he is not that technically gifted, but he is a different kind of player and one of a kind. We were very lucky to have him.

Inter held out with 10 men at the Camp Nou to reach the Champions League final in 2010. Was that one of the best defensive displays you have played in? Did you sense how much it meant to Jose Mourinho?
Salvo Mazzei, via Twitter
First of all, please don’t forget the great attacking display from the first leg, in which we outplayed Barcelona at the San Siro. Despite going a goal behind early on, we were so confident that we were doing our job that we ended up beating them comfortably – 3-1. The second leg was an amazing defensive performance, yes, but not because we planned it that way. It was just the way we were forced to react after Thiago Motta was sent off inside the first 30 minutes.

We showed great personality, strength, commitment and cohesion to fight for our place in the final, against an opponent that was considered the best in the world, and by some as the best in history. As a player, sometimes you get that feeling something good is about to happen; that you are capable of pulling off the impossible.

I could see the commitment of Samuel Eto’o – he was practically playing next to me as a right-back for the rest of the match, despite being a striker, because the team needed the extra cover so badly. He was willing to sacrifice himself for the team and help us defend against [Lionel] Messi and Xavi and all of the other players. That shows how much our team wanted to reach that final.

Mourinho was a controversial figure in Italy, often falling out with the press. What did the players think about that? Did he create a siege mentality that helped you to win?
Felipe Toledo, via Facebook
To us, Mourinho was always a superb manager. He was a man with a strong personality who prepared every game to the tiniest detail. He ensured that every player that went onto the pitch knew exactly what they had to do, and how they would react whichever way the match might unfold. That was his big asset. During the two seasons that Jose was in charge at Inter, the team was always incredibly well prepared.

The 2010 Champions League Final was your 700th game for Inter and you completed the Treble. Was that the best moment of your career?
Harsh Joshi, via Facebook
Yes, without a doubt. I couldn’t ask for more. But let me correct you: while it’s generally remembered as the Treble, we won five titles that year, with the Italian Super Cup and the Club World Cup on top of Serie A, the Champions League and Coppa Italia. That’s why I say that it’s the best overall moment – as the team had reached the peak.