Javier Zanetti: Argentina’s Forgotten Captain

When Argentina went into the dressing room at half time tied with Colombia, something was definitely missing from Argentina’s team as they looked frantic and were forced scramble any time Colombia attacked.

Diego Maradona’s decision to play three forwards and three defenders was certainly a terrible error, and at the half he not only reverted to a 4-4-2, but he brought the missing piece to Argentina’s defense: Javier Zanetti.

Zanetti was Argentina's captain under Basile

Zanetti was Argentina's captain under Basile

Zanetti had started every game in this qualifying campaign before losing his place to Daniel Diaz, who scored the winning goal but was guilty of a few horrendous defensive blunders that would have led to goals against a better attacking side. Zanetti ultimately came in, adding balance to Argentina’s formation as well as putting a calming influence over the game.

Maradona’s decision to leave the Inter captain on the bench sums up the way Zanetti has been treated by the national team over the years.

In 2006, “Pupi” was left out of the World Cup squad in favor of Lionel Scaloni, a laughable decision by coach Jose Peckerman, and one that may have ultimately cost him the World Cup. Although Zanetti was certainly disappointed to be left out, he did not throw a fit, and pledged to support his nation despite not going to the tournament.

This series of events epitomizes a man who is well know for his charities as well as winning the last four Scudetti with Inter. Zanetti was eventually called back to the national team, and was gracious to Coco Basile for being included. Eventually, Zanetti became captain of the side after Roberto Ayala retired following the 2007 Copa America.

His captaincy ended under peculiar circumstances, when Diego Maradona became manager and stripped him of the armband. He gave it to Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, who had less than half the caps of Zanetti. Mascherano was reluctant to take the role of skipper stating that Zanetti was the rightful captain.

In the end, Maradona essentially forced Mascherano to take the armband, leaving Zanetti slighted again. Lesser men would have wined and quit the national team for being robbed of the captaincy for no apparent reason. Zanetti did nothing of the sort, and continued to play on without stirring up anything in the media. Although most new coaches often change captain, Maradona’s decision was strange because Mascherano publicly said he did not think he was the right man for the job.

Zanetti continued to play well with Inter under Jose Mourinho, who often deployed him as a right-sided midfielder or left back, rather than right back, his preferred position with Argentina, showing versatility and desire to help the team in any possible way.

Zanetti is clearly Inter’s most humble servant, having appeared in at least 37 games each season since moving to the San Siro from Banfield in 1995. His class and respect for the game was also shown when he allowed the retiring Luis Figo to take the role of captain in his last match, a gesture Maradona could perhaps learn from.

Although Zanetti looks set to start on Wednesday against Ecuador, Maradona will give the armband to error prone Real Madrid defender Gabriel Heinze. Zanetti will most likely say nothing, but will have to be disappointed. Although he won’t be wearing the armband, Zanetti’s desire, hard work, and ability to push forward will be the example younger players look to.

Zanetti’s decision to let his play do the talking is certainly a commendable one, and it is certainly a shame the way he has been treated by Maradona. He has been called “the Argentine Maldini,” and as Zanetti racks up the caps (he’s at 133 now) and trophies at Inter, he will cement himself as perhaps the greatest Argentine defender of all, both on and off the pitch. Too bad his own coach doesn’t recognize this.

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