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

Javier Zanetti
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How did it feel to win the Champions League after 15 years with Inter?
Antonio Favata, via Twitter
It was a dream come true to put Inter back on the world stage – to leave our names written as Champions League winners – but especially as I knew how much the fans wanted the moment to finally come. To help make that happen was amazing. While we were still in the Bernabeu doing post-match interviews, we could see footage of fans gathering at Piazza del Duomo and we wanted to be there, too. Our flight landed at 6am and we found the San Siro packed with fans waiting for us to show them the trophy. Those are my best memories.

What was the mood in the dressing room like after the 2010 Champions League Final knowing that Mourinho was leaving? Was his departure the main reason why things took a turn for the worse the following season?
Daniel Shaw, via Twitter
Inside the dressing room it was about celebrating. The achievement had been sought after for decades, and to every one of us it was a huge relief and also a personal joy to fulfil it. Later we all thought about his decision, but you can’t think about the future straight after winning the Champions League.

Did you go for a run in between your wedding ceremony and reception? What did your wife think of that?
Cassandra Diaz, via Twitter
What can I say, she knew me! [Laughs] In Serie A we always had a break over the Christmas period, but just a week, so I would always continue my training routine. I got married on December 23, so on that day I needed to train. I did the usual wedding things as planned – after that, I went out for a quick run.  

You finished off a famous free-kick routine to score against England at France 98 – how many times had you practised that one in training?
Tim Flint, Leicester
Ha! In terms of strictly answering your question, we practised it for four years, for as long as Daniel Passarella was the coach. What no one knows is that the original plan was for Ariel Ortega to shoot, not me. But as it had not worked, Passarella came up to me at the World Cup and said, “You go and stand near the end of their wall.”

I was lucky that, on the very first attempt, it went in and we got to the quarter-finals. I still remember the split-second I made the move and suddenly got the ball. Even though I had to shoot on my left foot, the strike felt perfect and I knew that it was going in.

Clear this up once and for all: did the Argentina players really taunt England from their team bus after winning on penalties and, if so, why? Was there bad blood between the two sides?
Jack Beresford, via Facebook
[Answers sternly] Not at all, absolutely no taunting. And the game was intense as it was a World Cup decider, but there was no lack of respect, neither towards the English players nor their supporters.

Does being left out of two World Cup squads in 2006 and 2010 tarnish the memories of your Argentina career? Have you spoken to Jose Pekerman or Diego Maradona about it since?
Darren Walsh, via Facebook
No, I have not talked to them about it and I wouldn’t want to, either – it is all water under the bridge now and my conscience is clear that I did everything in my power to be picked. Not only that, I was also selected a lot during the qualification games for both World Cups and then played in the opening game immediately after the two World Cups that I missed – so my desire to be there was always clear. I do not consider missing out twice to be a stain on my international career as I have got no regrets. It is all part of football and you just have to accept these things can happen and never look back – always look forward.

You played with guys such as Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino – did you expect those two to become top coaches, are there more of your former team-mates who could do similar, and do you have ambitions of becoming a manager yourself?
Clarisa Ferreyra, via Facebook
For several years before retiring I was clear that I wanted to become what I am now – someone related to the club but not as a manager. Now that I’m vice-president at Inter I couldn’t be happier or prouder, as I feel that I am still useful to the club. But even when we were all playing, Simeone and Pochettino were like managers; they made you feel that they would eventually go that way. As for others I played with, I think another great future coach is Esteban Cambiasso. He was just like Poch and El Cholo.

If you could come out of retirement, which club would you play for? You aren’t allowed to pick Inter, sorry!
Christian VanSlyke, via Facebook
I would have to pick Independiente, as I’m a fan of them but sadly never had the opportunity to play for them. I started out in their youth academy but was released because I was not physically strong enough, as happens to many players. My idol was Ricardo Bochini and I supported them home and away during the 1983 campaign. Then the following season they lifted the Intercontinental Cup by beating Liverpool, so I’d definitely pick them.

Interview: Martin Mazur. Portrait: Mattia Zoppellaro. From the July 2017 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!

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