They say patience is a virtue and for Javier Zanetti that mantra certainly rings true. When FC Internazionale Milano meet Club Atlético de Madrid on Friday in the UEFA Super Cup, it will be 15 years to the day since the Argentinian made his Nerazzurri debut.
Last season's UEFA Champions League final victory against FC Bayern München belonged to Zanetti. His service to the club – extended this month by two years − alone made him worthy of being the first Inter captain since 1965 to lift the European Champion Clubs' Cup. Now he is hoping to lead the club to their first victory in the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco.
The UEFA Super Cup is on 27 August, 15 years to the day since you made your debut for Inter against Vicenza Calcio in Serie A. You have come a long way since then – what does this mean to you?
Javier Zanetti: It's an honour for me to wear the Inter shirt. To have been involved in so many important moments that all of us and our fans will keep in our hearts and minds forever, I feel privileged. You never grow tired of winning and I still want to win many more titles with Inter. It will be a special game for me against Atlético.
You have been with the club for most of your career, but what emotions did you feel when you lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy to complete the treble?
Zanetti: It was a unique feeling because I had been waiting 15 years to lift that cup and I succeeded in doing it as captain of a great Inter side. After winning the Scudetto and the Coppa Italia only this trophy, the most important one, was missing. We worked very hard to win it. It was a great triumph for everybody: for the fans, president [Massimo] Moratti and all of the team.
Inter have dominated Italian football in recent years and winning the UEFA Champions League means you have won every major honour in European football apart from the UEFA Super Cup. How motivated are you to lift the trophy in Monaco?
Zanetti: I've never had the opportunity to win the Super Cup, so of course I am eager to win against Atlético. This will be the first time I have played in this match, so I really want to do well. The game also marks the start of Inter's new season and we want to make sure it's another successful year for the club. Winning the Super Cup will be a good start.
You are 37 years old, but remain at the top level of European football in one of the strongest teams on the continent. What has been the secret to your success?
Zanetti: There aren't any special secrets, just lots of hard work and professionalism. It's with effort that you achieve your targets and I will keep playing as long as I am fit.
This is the best period of my career – I feel even better than I did when I was younger and I feel I can still play at the highest level.
How difficult do you think it will be to emulate what you achieved as a club last season?
Zanetti: To repeat such a successful season as last year is always difficult, but we will do everything we can to be competitive until the end. It will be tough because many other teams will want to beat us as we are European champions, but we have to rise to the challenge and I know we will.
With the likes of Esteban Cambiasso, Diego Milito, Walter Samuel and yourself, there is a considerable Argentinian influence at Inter. What qualities do you all bring to the club?
Zanetti: We just try to be useful to the group, put our professionalism at the service of the coach, and do well for the team, which is the most important thing. There are many Argentinian players here at Inter but I think our approach is just the same as any other group of players – we want to win and we work hard to achieve that.
How has Rafael Benítez settled in since taking over from José Mourinho?
Zanetti: Benítez is a coach with clear ideas and lots of experience in football. With a coach like him I think Inter can keep improving and we can be more successful. We also have a good academy and the young players we have coming through are going to play their part this year. We have plenty of experience in the team and they will learn from that to become better players.
Do you think he will change the team's style of play?
Zanetti: Every coach has his own ideas about managing the team and how it plays. It's inevitable that some things change when a new coach comes in, but we must be ready to respond to every request he has. We are professionals and that is our duty.
With so many Inter players, such as Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto'o, involved in the FIFA World Cup this summer, do you think this could have an impact on the team this season?
Zanetti: We played more than 50 matches last season, so the players are used to playing so many games. Sneijder and Eto'o, but also Stanković, Muntari, Maicon and Lucio − who also played in South Africa − are all professionals who want to be successful. They have had a break after the World Cup and they look fresh and ready for the new season. It is going to be a good year for Inter, I am sure.
This is an abridged version of an interview which will appear in the official UEFA Super Cup programme.
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