27th August 1995 was Inter's first game with devoted Interista Massimo Moratti as the new president and also a special day for me; after watching Italian football on TV for years with no loyalty to any club, I had decided that Inter should be my club to follow and support, considering that over the years it had been the team I was most drawn to.
Legendary captain Giuseppe Bergomi led his team on to the Giuseppe Meazza pitch to face Vicenza with three footballing legends making debuts for the Nerazzurri. Though at that time only one was considered a legend: Paul Ince, the midfielder who had already made his name with Manchester United and England. The other two were Roberto Carlos, a young promising left wingback from Brazil who scored the winning goal on his debut with a stunning 30 yard free-kick -- he eventually went on to become probably the greatest wingback in history with Real Madrid. Then there was also an unknown 22-year-old Argentinean right back, Javier Adelmar Zanetti, who was Moratti's first signing for his beloved club much to the confusion of Interisti.
Fast forward three years and both Paul Ince and Roberto Carlos had left Inter, but the quiet youngster Zanetti was still at the club and lifting the UEFA cup with his captain Bergomi and superstars like Ronaldo and Ivan Zamorano -- he even managed to score one of his rare goals in this final.
A season later and Bergomi decided to hang up his boots at 36 years old, holding the record for most appearances for Inter, playing for the club an astounding 756 times in his 19 years there. His captain's armband was passed onto Zanetti, who by now had gained huge respect from both his teammates and the fans for his versatility and professionalism on the pitch.
Fast forward again to the present day and Zanetti is still the Inter captain and still as devoted to the Nerazzurri as he always has been. Over the last 17 years playing for Inter he has won every title possible for the club (with the exception of the European Super Cup that Inter missed out on in 2010), has played under an incredible 20 different managers and has broken record after record.
At the time of writing this Zanetti has appeared for Inter an astounding 803 times, smashing Bergomi's record and at 39 years old you'd think that was going to be about his lot. You'd be wrong! The versatile midfielder is still running from box to box for 90 minutes of every game, living up to his nickname of "il Trattore" (The Tractor) and you'd be forgiven for thinking he was still a spritely 25-year-old at the peak of his career.
Not only is "il Capitano" a fantastic player and a true legend of the worldwide game, he is respected by players, managers and fans on every continent due to his calm influence and his professionalism. Just like another Inter legend, the late great Giacinto Facchetti, he is a true gentleman, honest, caring and most importantly he has dedicated his career to our great club, Inter!
Zanetti's professionalism and caring nature continue off the pitch too with him acting as FIFA ambassador for the SOS Children's Villages project in Argentina. Zanetti does a lot of charity work and is the co-founder of 'Leoni di Potrero' with his compatriot and teammate Esteban Cambiasso, this charity association was set up to help young children with social isolation problems and motor coordination difficulties.
Zanetti has never forgotten where he came from either and when Argentina fell into economic crisis in 2001, he and his wife Paula created the 'Fundación PUPI with the aim of helping Argentina's impoverished children by providing them with educational opportunities and taking care of their nutritional requirements. Zanetti himself had a difficult childhood in his native Argentina so the foundation is very close to his heart.
"When I look back to my childhood, many concrete scenes come to my mind, good ones and bad ones. I had a difficult childhood, and even though I don't live in my country at present, I'm well aware of what's going on there and the devastating effect it's having on our poorest children. I've always believed that our public actions need to take account of our social responsibility,"
So as you can see Javier Zanetti isn't just a talented and versatile footballer, but also a great leader, a true gentleman and a role model who gives people all over the world the inspiration to make life better for future generations to enjoy.
I truly hope our great captain can achieve his goal being the player with the most appearances ever in Serie A and continues to work with his beloved Inter for many years to come.
Javier "PUPI" Zanetti - The world salutes you!