FC Internazionale Milano produced a swashbuckling display to dispatch SS Lazio 4-1 on Saturday, but the evening belonged to Javier Zanetti as he bid farewell to San Siro – a stadium he called home for 19 years.
The moment the Milan crowd had been eagerly anticipating arrived seven minutes after the interval as the 40-year-old emerged from the bench for his 857th appearance in a Nerazzurri shirt. The celebrations continued after the final whistle, with Inter players and directors lined up on the touchline sporting commemorative No4 sweaters. Zanetti's greatest moments were then relayed on the giant screen, with his wonder goal in the 1998 UEFA Cup final and Inter's 2010 UEFA Champions League triumph greeted by raucous cheers.
Visibly touched by the tributes, Zanetti, supported by his wife and two sons, addressed the San Siro faithful. "Thank you everyone," he said. "You have no idea how emotional this moment is. I want to thank everyone who has supported me at every opportunity. I have learnt from you to love this shirt and I will continue to do so forever.
"My only desire was to honour the Inter jersey all over the world," the former Argentinian international continued, before thanking his family, directors past and present, and "my fantastic team-mates – those of this season and every year prior, for whom I have so much respect and admiration."
Since joining from CA Banfield in 1995, the full-back has broken the club's records for most Serie A outings and most appearances in a spell that has brought silverware at home and abroad, culminating in the 2010 UEFA Champions League. He will now serve the Milan outfit as a director. "Now I must do something else," he explained. "I don't know if I will do it well, but I can say that I will support Inter as I did on the field. Thank you for loving me."
Dejan Stanković, who played alongside Zanetti between 2004 and 2013, said: "We fought so many battles together so I really wanted to be here today. It's difficult for me to say goodbye to 'Pupi', a real stalwart, a role model for everybody. I hope kids will learn from him and follow his great example."
"It was very emotional," added Inter midfielder Fredy Guarín. "It's a pity because he is still very fit. He looks like a 15-year old boy and could certainly continue playing. He is incredible; he always gives 100% in every single training session and never gives up. It's hard to imagine Inter without Zanetti on the pitch." Those in attendance at San Siro certainly thought the same.
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