Captain Javier Zanetti said equalling Giacinto Facchetti's record of 476 Serie A games for FC Internazionale Milano was "one more reason to be proud of my career" as the Serie A leaders beat Calcio Catania 2-1.
The Argentinian international is now 36, but as Inter coach José Mourinho once said, "they must have written the wrong date on his passport because he looks ten years younger". Matching legendary Inter defender Facchetti's total of 476 matches from 1960-78 was a stunning achievement by any standards, but the fact that Zanetti has now played in his side's last 139 games without a break – a run stretching back to a 28 October 2006 fixture against AS Livorno Calcio – makes it doubly remarkable. "I have played in all of my team's games for the last three years and this makes me happy," said the former CA Banfield man.
Mourinho said it was "impossible to rest" Zanetti, "because every time he plays a game he gets into even better shape". The player himself added: "My parents taught me that I should give my all no matter what I was doing, so my watchword is responsibility. Of course, you also need some luck, but hard work pays off. It's during the week that you lay down the foundations for your success." That work ethic has not always made the player popular off the pitch, as he admitted: "I even trained before my wedding. My wife Paula was not so happy about that."
Zanetti was the Beneamata's first signing following owner Massimo Moratti's takeover in 1995, with his 14 years at the club seeing Inter endure a tough period when city rivals AC Milan and Juventus dominated Serie A, before coming good to win the last four titles. "We are top of the league again and this is where we want to stay until the end of the season," said the defender-turned-midfielder. "We are a good team; we get along well and even when players are unavailable, the ones who replace them always rise to the occasion." Having proved himself capable of rising to any occasion, Mourinho hopes Zanetti can inspire young team-mates like Mario Balotelli, with Zanetti saying of the 19-year-old striker: "Mario is young and has the right to make mistakes, but he also has to make the most of his chances."
Now only one player has made more Inter appearances than Zanetti: Giuseppe Bergomi with 519 from 1980-99, but the club skipper claims he is aiming for a different target. "What I really want now is the fifth Scudetto in a row," he said. "That would mean becoming a legend." His contract at Inter expires at the end of the season, but it seems likely that he will extend it for at least another 12 months. How long can he continue? "I will play until I stop having fun," he said.
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