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"Extraordinary" is the word Giuseppe Bergomi uses to describe Javier Zanetti and with good reason given the Argentinian equalled his record of Serie A appearances for FC Internazionale Milano on Saturday. The 37-year-old wore the Nerazzurri shirt for the 519th time in the Italian top flight as he appeared for all but the final four minutes of the 4-1 home victory over Bologna FC.
Bergomi, who played for Inter between 1979 and 1999, was club captain when Zanetti joined from CA Banfield alongside fellow Argentinian Sebastián Rambert 16 years ago – the first two signings made by Massimo Moratti as president. Speaking to UEFA.com, the 47-year-old recalls: "When he came to Inter, everybody was talking about Rambert and not much about Zanetti. But we saw in the first training sessions that he was the better player and he then confirmed how good he was.
"The special thing about him is that he is a serious lad, he trains well every day and he is a great professional," Bergomi continues. "Mother Nature gave him a strong body, he is physically very strong, so all these characteristics mean Zanetti is still playing at the top level at the age of 37 and have helped him win all that he has won. He is just a great professional."
The former Italy defender admits he sees something of himself in Zanetti's "seriousness and professional attitude" and adds: "That's what got me on in my career. I have to say that
Zanetti was the right person to follow me as captain of the team and he has done a great job."
Bergomi was 17 when he made Inter league debut on 22 February 1981; Zanetti, by comparison, was already 22 for his first appearance on 27 August 1995. "It's true that Zanetti didn't grow up at Inter, but we can still count him as a real Inter one-club player," says Bergomi. "Since he arrived in Italy he has always worn the Inter shirt. When you grow up at such a club and you manage to break through into the team, then you don't feel like going anywhere else. It feels like your second skin and you give your all to the club."
A world champion with Italy in 1982, Bergomi failed to win the European Champion Clubs' Cup with Inter but did lift the UEFA Cup three times, the last occasion in 1998 when Zanetti scored in the final victory over S.S. Lazio. Twelve years later Zanetti held aloft the European Cup in Madrid after his 700th game with Inter in all competitions, the 2-0 triumph over FC Bayern München last May.
Bergomi will remain the player with most Inter appearances in all competitions (758) for another 34 games at least – though he knows it is not a secure margin considering the reliability of the man they call 'Il Trattore' (The Tractor).
"He is the kind of player that never misses even a friendly because his body allows him to do all this and he just takes care of himself," Bergomi said. "So to think that a player may beat a record is difficult, but then you have to recognise at a certain point that he developed into an extraordinary player. Records are made to be broken and if it's Zanetti who does it I'm happy about it."
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