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Has the sun finally set on Javier Zanetti?

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Tim Vickery | 11:12 UK time, Monday, 22 August 2011

Has Javier Zanetti's international career finally come to an end?

New Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella paid tribute to him last week - and then left him out of the squad to face Venezuela and Nigeria. He has forced his way back before after being dropped but at the age of 38 can he really come back again?

One of the most remarkable aspects of Zanetti's haul of 145 international caps is that the total could have been even higher. The Inter Milan stalwart was controversially left out of the squad for both of the last two World Cups - despite the fact that Argentina have had such difficulty producing full-backs.

Javier Zanetti playing for Argentina

Even as a 38-year-old, Zanetti remains committed, fit and dedicated to his football. Photo: Getty

That lack of decent alternatives may be a major reason why Zanetti - whose commitment, fitness and dedication cannot be questioned - has managed to stick around for as long as he has done.

By way of illustration, Pablo Zabaleta - more at home as a right-sided midfielder - is currently Argentina's first-choice right-back.

Perhaps the biggest condemnation of Argentina's deficiency is that Zanetti's last games for his country came on the other flank.

During this summer's Copa America Sabella's predecessor Sergio Batista came to the conclusion that his best option at left-back was none other than the right-footed Zanetti. The decision was perhaps one reason why Argentina struggled so much to open up a Uruguay side which went down to 10 men after an early red card for midfielder Diego Perez.

Six years ago, when he was in charge of Argentina, Jose Pekerman declared himself envious of Brazil's tradition for mass-producing dynamic and attacking full-backs. Zanetti was the best equivalent he had. But then, astonishingly, he opted not to take him to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, an omission even more bizarre than Diego Maradona's decision to do without him four years later in South Africa.

What on earth was Pekerman thinking of? One Argentine journalist, whose opinion I respect, swears that it was because the coach had come to the conclusion that Zanetti was a jinx.

It is certainly true that Zanetti can hardly claim to be a lucky charm for Argentina. He first played for his country towards the end of 1994. The previous year Argentina won a second consecutive Copa America, and their 14th overall, but have not won another senior title since.

Javier Zanetti and Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona controversially left Zanetti out of his 2010 World Cup squad. Photo: AFP

While not being blessed with full-backs the same can hardly be said for Argentina when it comes to other positions. Between 1995 and 2007 they won the World Youth Cup - featuring players aged 20 or under - five times out of seven.

The 1995 winners were captained by the maverick left-back Juan Pablo Sorin, Pekerman's captain in 2006 and the last top-class attacking full-back to have come out of the country. The 1997 side were especially strong in midfield, with Juan Roman Riquelme, Esteban Cambiasso and Pablo Aimar, as well as centre-back Walter Samuel. Four years later Nicolas Burdisso was the standout defender, Maxi Rodriguez and Andres D'Alessandro shone in midfield and Javier Saviola provided the cutting edge.

The 2003 team failed to win the title, but left a legacy of Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez. Lionel Messi was the clear star from the class of 2005, supported by Zabaleta, Fernando Gago and Sergio Aguero, who also shot Argentina to triumph in 2007, backed up by goalkeeper Sergio Romero, midfielder Ever Banega and the flying Angel Di Maria.

Even though some of these players may have fallen short of expectations, it is still a dazzling cast list. And while it is clearly easier to win a World Youth title - or an Olympic football gold medal - than a World Cup, it is understandable that Argentines are left frustrated by their long wait for a senior trophy.

There have been some spectacular failures along the way - the 2002 World Cup side arrived as favourites but crashed out at the group stage.

There have been some near misses - especially the 2004 Copa America, when Argentina outplayed what was essentially a reserve Brazil side, who snatched a last-minute equaliser and won on penalties.

But some wounds have been self-inflicted, such as the lack of balance between attack and defence in the last World Cup, and, I would argue, the absence of Zanetti in 2006. In order to accommodate the roaming of Sorin down the left, coach Pekerman ended up playing a central defender at right-back. The plan backfired spectacularly in the quarter-finals against Germany as Argentina dominated but ultimately failed to convert possession into clear-cut chances. Some well-timed bursts from Zanetti might have made all the difference, appearing as an element of surprise and stretching the German lines.

Rather than being a jinx, in 2006 at least, he might have been the missing piece of the jigsaw.

If you've got any questions on South American football you can email them to and Tim will pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:

David Sirkin asks: In light of the recent insipid performances by both the Brazilian and Argentine teams, why haven't we seen the inclusions of the Lazio superstars Hernanes and Zarate for their respective countries?

Tom Vickery answers: Zarate has a tough task getting in because Argentina have so much strength in depth up-front. Even without Tevez the current squad has Aguero, Lisandro Lopez and Eduardo Salvio alongside Messi, with Juan Manuel Martinez of Velez in the squad of home-based players. Not easy to get past that lot - he's going to have to do well on a consistent basis to stand a chance.

Hernanes is a strange case - poorly selected wide-left against France earlier this year, he couldn't get in the game, got frustrated and picked up a silly and uncharacteristic red card, and has been out in the cold ever since.

Personally, though, I'd love to see him in. He offers so much - he's versatile and strikes the ball beautifully with both feet. I think I'm in a minority of one here, but I even think he's worth a look in the holding role for Brazil - he can mark and I think he can be a more natural passer from deep than Lucas Leiva. I'd love to see it tried out, but, as I say, I seem to be the only one who thinks that way.


  • Comment number 1.

    One other stumbling block for Argentina is the insistence of playing their best left-back (Heinze) at centre-back for the vast majority of his international career.

  • Comment number 2.

    The original point to this piece was not just to be about Zanetti - but also to put his marathon international career in the following context;
    1 - it is a time in which Argentina have not won a senior title
    2 - but during which they have produced a conveyor belt of dazzling talent at Under-20 level.

    It was supposed to end posing the following question - does the end of Zanetti (purely by coincidence) come at the same time as the failure of this conveyor belt?

    These were the closing paragraphs, which unfortunately were cut from the published piece;

    "It is clearly a cause for concern that so few quality full backs are appearing. There is, though, no immediate reason for panic – Lionel Messi and his contemporaries still have another two goes at the World Cup/Copa America cycle.
    But there are clouds on the horizon. Argentina’s youth sides have gone backwards – not merely in terms of results, but also in the quality of play. Youth development specialists in the country have been warning of an alarming drop in technical ability. The evidence of the recent World Youth Cup, won by Brazil last Saturday, bears out their words.
    Eliminated on penalties in the quarter finals, Argentina were competitive without being inspired. They have some interesting players – keeper Esteban Andrada has been promoted to the senior squad, playmaker Eric Lamela is a talent, left winger Carlos Luque was a revelation and little support striker Juan Manuel Iturbe is one to watch.
    But so much of the team’s play was dull and laboured. Among the disappointments was right back Hugo Nervo, who fell short of his billing as a possible solution for the right back position at senior level.
    Javier Zanetti, then, will prove a tough act to follow. Rather than a jinx, he was an outstanding member of a team that may not have won titles, but played attractive, adventurous football. My favourite memory is of a goal he scored against Uruguay in a World Cup qualifier late in 2004. It was Pekerman’s first game in charge, Riquelme was selected to run the midfield and Zanetti latched on to one of his passes to fire a low shot into the far corner. What a shame he was not around to come up with something similar in the World Cup nearly two years later."

  • Comment number 3.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 4.

    In regard to Hernanes and the Lazio question at the end of the piece, I am staggered that he cannot get into Brazil's current midfield. When he played for Sao Paulo as well as Lazio he was blatantly a better playmaker than the overrated Ganso, and he's still the best solution to Brazil's problem of central midfield creativity, whether he plays deep or further forward. I cannot understand the coach not selecting him- although the fact he played him out of position against France shows that he's one that maybe the coach Menezes wanted to fail so the public would not force him to pick him- a personal issue perhaps?

  • Comment number 5.

    It is always sad to see a player like this go out on a relative low.. big tournaments should always be their swan song... that may have been the case if Maradona had done what everyone knows he shouldve and picked Zanetti for S Africa.

    I wouldnt like to tame or even try to help Maradona but a new coach couldve possibly used a 37 year old respected player in his ranks who had just won a treble with his club team.. even as a go between/buffer for younger players who were clearly in awe of a legendary coach.

  • Comment number 6.

    Tim. whats the talk about Mano selecting specific players h's worked with. haven't seen Corinthians in a while, but is Ralf really Selecao material? same goes with Douglas, Elias, Andre Santos. all wonderful players who Mano coached at club level (Douglas in particular), but international quality?

    Sabella's appointment excites me to tears. people like him, Martino, Bauza & Gareca should be considered for the top job any day over the old (Coco Basile), insane (el Diego) & incompetent (Checho Batista). do you think Argentina will adapt to his ideas of intelligent football? I dont think he's dull, defensive or reactive. with el Leon he went as far as possible & lost the Club World Cup in the dying minutes of extra time.

    finally, any input on the "sparring" concept? first heard it being used by Bielsa, but it seems to be catching up/getting more press!

  • Comment number 7.

    Good to see the other paragraphs from your story Tim - whoever subbed it seems to have missed the point you were trying to make about Zanetti within the context of the development and future of the Argentinian side. Guess that's one of the problems when copy is just cut from the bottom!

  • Comment number 8.

    This dude wasn't just awesome on Championship Manager... he was awesome on Sensible World Of Soccer!!! Now that's old school. Massive respect.

    Funnily, my first memory of Roy Hodgeson is connected to the emergence of Zanetti: as manager of Inter he was posed the question; "Are you surprised by the quality of play from Zanetti?" [he'd just given a masterclass in attacking fullback play] Cool as a cucumber Hodgeson just said: "Havier is havier." Implying that he does that every single time in matches and in training.

    Back on my original topic of SWOS - retirements like this are like the death of the first world war veterans - there's only 3 or 4 players left from SWOS and each time one retires it breaks my heart.

  • Comment number 9.

    Yes definitely agree on that. One of the best players to represent Argentina and Inter Milan. His drive, energy, commitment, stamina and sheer will to win the ball and set up attacking play is incomparable. He still has all these qualities and if anything he seemed to be getting better with age. Amazingly he has not had any injury problems. This he puts down to his fitness regime, even while on holiday. What a pro. On a different note, Tim i thought you'd be doing an article on the U-20 world Cup win by Brazil. Can we look forward to that? How good is this side in your opinion? Any future starlets?

  • Comment number 10.

    When Zanetti finally hang up his boots, Inter fans will surely hold him in similar regard to Giacinto Facchetti. If they don't, then they should.

    Zanetti is a legend, pure and simple. Some may dispute such praise as excessive, but in my eyes, he is more worthy of such a title than Pele and Maradona. He has literally NEVER had a bad game. A model of consistency, loyalty, behaviour, effort and class. He plays as hard when he's losing by 4 as when he's winning by 4. The last time he saw a red card was 12 years ago, which is incredible for a defender. At 38, he still runs like he's 18. What more could you want from the captain of country and club.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think you would be hard pushed to find a player as underrated as Zanetti. He played in so many different positions for club and country and always played like every match was a cup final. Blessed with energy, drive, commitment and relatively injury free career he will go down as hero to many Inter fans and well respected by others.

  • Comment number 12.

    Honestly Jogo_Bonito i didn't copy you. Great minds think alike? ;)

  • Comment number 13.

    I have just looked at the defenders selected by Maradona for the South African World Cup - Otamendi, Samuel, Garce, Burdisso, Heinze, Rodriguez and Demichelis. All can play CB or are natural centre halves apart from Clemente Rodriguez who can play left and right back so is the only natural full back. Ariel Garce can play on the right also, Heinze on the left.

    Could it not be argued that tactical naivety was at play when Maradona picked this squad, hence Zanetti being left out, he maybe seen Zanetti more of an attacking force from defence and wanted to perhaps keep his defenders as 'defence' only rather than having the fluidity afforded by having attacking full backs.

    The problem with this, is that Zanetti in my opinion was one of the best attacking full backs along with Zambrotta, Cafu et al, but with him still playing for a top european team at 38 in Italy, where lets be honest, if a defender can play to that age there then they must still be good. At 38 and still playing he has the experience to simply switch off and turn on defense and attack mode. Maldini, Cannavaro, Cafu just some examples of players who still played for their country at a late age all playing in Italy

  • Comment number 14.

    Would Pekerman's alleged views on a 'jinxed' Zanetti be considered as bizarre in Argentina (among both coaches and fans) as they do over here (to me at least)? I did hear a rumour from a Spurs fan that Bale's career took that little longer to get off the ground as Redknapp considered him unlucky after not winning in his first 25 games. I know sportsmen can be a little more superstitious than the rest of us, but there's plenty of money resting on these decisions and it is the 21st century.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    Pablo Zabaleta is definitely a right-back and in no way a right-sided midfielder

  • Comment number 17.

    To appease the more conservative forces in Brazil, you could put Hernanes alongside Ramires, a classic double pivot 'shield and sword' pairing where one is all energy and hassle and the other more about passing and composure. Ramires appears play that role alongside Mikel at Chelsea.

    From there a whole host of options appear. The current king of 4-2-3-1 is an obvious choice, but so is going back to the past with a 4-2-2-2/4-2-1-2-1, Hernanes in the Falcao role and Ganso and Neymar further ahead as forward playmakers. Personally, I'd go for a 4-3-3 with the middle three a triangle, Ganso as the point/tip, and then take your pick with the front three (wouldn't have Robinho myself, so it's likely Pato and Neymar plus one more).

  • Comment number 18.

    We might often pick the wrong candidate as England boss, but in all honesty I can't think of any of our mangers who knew NOTHING about tactics.
    Does anyone at the Argentinian FA want to win the WC again, because judging by the last decade or so, it doesn't look like it.

  • Comment number 19.

    And Tim, you're comfortably the best blogger on the site, next time some fool of an editor tries to cut your article in two, tell them to go home. I don't want to have to read the second half in the comments section. Happy this time mods?


  • Comment number 20.

    I can only echo waldovski's (#10) fine tribute to a true footballing great.

    It was always amusing when the ITV / Sky commentators used to muse that you could "get at" Zanetti on various Champions League nights over the past 5 years or so, on account of his age. Up until the past year or so he's still looked like one of the fittest players I've ever seen. I think they got the message the year Inter won the CL as I haven't heard it since!

    I felt a bit sorry for him when Argentina were continually forced wide to use him in the Copa against Uruguay - IMO he did look a shade below the amazing level he's somehow managed to maintain for this long.

    I'd join the list of Hernanes for Brazil calls, fantastic for Lazio last term. They punched well above their weight and he had a huge role in that. Haven't seen much of Ganso still but far more deserving of a place than the lazy Robinho IMO.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    The thing about him is even at 38 he doesn't lack pace at all. Remarkable he's kept himself so fit, and the European Cup Inter won a couple of years ago will surely cement his place as one of their greatest ever players.

  • Comment number 23.

    I would place Zanetti, Hugo Ibarra and Sorin as the last great attacking fullbacks in Argentina.

  • Comment number 24.

    Internazionale's Maldini. As a Milan fan I'd love to hate Zanetti but, simply put, he is one of the best of his generation. If he had a bit less loyalty and didn't stay at a rubbish Inter team for all those years he could've won an awful lot more.

  • Comment number 25.

    Great great player. Zanetti could play in any position and play well. One of the most consistent players of all time, and I definitely think somewhat under-rated. The fact that he wasn't included in the 2006 world cup squad is astonishing. Then Maradona leaves him out in 2010. If he was trying to bring younger (by younger a mean 27 years and under) players into the squad and carry them forward I could have understood, but by the fact that Otamendi was the only defender under the age of 30 I think its quite unbelievable.

    16# Johntheface - definitely agree re Zabaleta. He is a much better right back than right midfielder. Far to defensive minded to play in midfield.

  • Comment number 26.

    Zabaleta more comfortable at right mid than at right back? Tim think you have had a shocker there, he's been playing right back for Man City for the last few seasons and been solid. I don't know much about his earlier career but I'm dissapointed at that comment from you.

  • Comment number 27.

    I've done a piece on Brazil winning the World Youth Cup for

  • Comment number 28.

    16 and 26 - Zabaleta was a right sided midfielder, not a right back, when captaining Argentina at Under-20 level and with San Lorenzo.
    The conversion to full back came later

  • Comment number 29.

    7 - it's truly heartwarming to be understood - this was not just a piece about Zanetti, but one about his career in the context of what has happened to Argentina, and what might happen in the future.

  • Comment number 30.

    As a legend in club football with Inter, Zanetti can hardly be blamed for Argentina's lack of trophies in recent years. I would point the finger more at the rapid turnover of national team coaches and inconsistent, and at times downright bizarre team selections and tactics. Unlike some I could name, who always seem to fall short of reproducing their outstanding club form when playing for their country, this can definitely not be said of Zanetti. His caps record speaks for itself. His strengths remain his consisency, versatility and stamina - attributes which would surely be valued in any international lineups. He has also been known to play some surprisingly beautiful football at times, something which is celebrated in Argentina. So just why he has been repeatedly overlooked and denied a successive run of games by a number of Argentina coaches is beyond me, especially given the lack of alternatives.

    For what it's worth he's been a constant fixture in my Championship Manager and Fifa teams for years. But then this is real life we're talking about.

  • Comment number 31.

    'TOM Vickery answers' :\

    Difficult to understand really just why Zanetti was left out of the previous two world cups, when all Argentina have is Pablo Zabaleta, who himself has never really shone at club level.
    Looking back i think he deserved better in those circumstances, considering at 37 he was still at the top of his game.

  • Comment number 32.

    Great player, great guy. Certainly an Inter living legend.

  • Comment number 33.

    Hi Tim. I'm just curious why you think it has to be Hernanes in place of Lucas rather than alongside him? For me Lucas would probably be a more suitable foil than say, Ramires, as he's more disciplined in that role forr me and has a better range of passing, he's also a very effective winner of the ball. He hasn't got the lung power or mobility of Ramires but I don't think that matters too as he's more of a sitter.

  • Comment number 34.

    Didn't Zanetti score Argentina's second goal v England in the Michael Owen 98 WC game? 2011 and after all these years he's still going strong at Inter, while the then fledgling Owen is well past his sell by date. A mark of the standards Zanetti set. As well as being a believer in 'if you're good enough, you're old enough', I'm also a believer in 'if you're good enough, you're young enough'. I'm not an expert on Argentinian full backs, though as a City fan I know a little about Zab, but Zanetti for me has been of a similar ilk to a Maldini, or Canavarro, who was instrumental in guiding Italy to a WC in 2006. Might he have made a difference in that German game in 2006 when the coach seemed to lose his marbles? I haven't seen Zanetti recently, but at his best he was better than Zab.

  • Comment number 35.

    Question for you Tim about Oscar of the Brazil U20 champions. Is he a better player than Ganso? Which players from this team are now a shoo-in for the senior team? I think the top players for Brazil were Dudu, Gabriel and Oscar. Although they were missing Lucas and Neymar the team still played with poise and confidence that I have not seen in the recent senior team.

  • Comment number 36.

    Aah, Mr Javier Zanetti. It must be something in the Italian cooking that keeps these amazing defenders going for so long, must be the extra virgin olive oil.
    Whatever the discussion is about Zanetti, i'm sure all the valid points and opinions have already been made from our football knowledge-wise guests. I just hope he keeps going on and on for both Inter and Argentina, truely remarkable player.

    I must say, Tim's blogs are the best, and it is the only place I can find intelligent people who actually know about football.
    I would love to have Tim's job, a base in Rio watching the beautiful South American football and all its talents.

  • Comment number 37.

    @Mikey (number 5) "a new coach couldve possibly used a 37 year old respected player in his ranks who had just won a treble with his club team.. even as a go between/buffer for younger players who were clearly in awe of a legendary coach."

    If the rumours are to be believed the only reason Argentina qualified for the WC at all was because Zanetti kept overruling Maradona's awful tactics and reorganising the whole team once they were on the pitch. ALLEGEDLY.

  • Comment number 38.

    Dear Phil, I've read your posts on this site and never felt the need to comment before mainly due to the excellent posts the readers of this page submit. I agree with the bulk of the guys that read your blog it is the best constructed I read and I look forward to it every week.

    I really hope the kind comments you get week in and out encourage you to carry on.

    The reason form my post is I am absolutely furious that you have to post the remainder ofthe article I chat as the original piece was cut by the editor. Joke!

    If the "editor" had bothered to read your blogs over the last couple of years he would realise the quality of the writing and subject is superb. You
    Only need to look at the volume of responses you get to realise that and whilst I don't always agree with you or the comments from readers, it makes an amazing read and one I look forward to every week.

    Seriously well done to you, and also the readers of this blog for making it a fantastic read. I don't watch South American football a lot and this is my main source and I love it.

    Keep up the great work, 99% of the people that read this site would agree.

    Cheers Tim

  • Comment number 39.

    Not Zanetti's fault...what a player!

    The Europeanisation of South American players that accelerated from the 90s onward has resulted in a gradual but constant decline in the quality of South American national teams.

    Whereas prior to that time, South American nations played with their own style and flair, these days most, if not all, their players are based in Europe so they have adopted the European ways of playing football. In addition, South American players move to Europe at an earlier age so their football development is shaped by European coaches and tactics, stifling the traditional creativity associated with South America.

    As a result, teams like Brazil and Argentina nowadays struggle when trying to play European style and against the top european teams. You can't beat them at their own game.

    Argentina haven't won a World Cup since 86 and Brazil have only won since then simply because of superstars like Romario and Ronaldo. The current Brazil is a sample of what Brazil is like without a superstar to disguise their inadequacies.

    Just one way globalisation is killing our beautiful game.

  • Comment number 40.

    My favourite player. Fantastic all round player who never loses the ball, amazing feat thinking that throughout most of his career he played as a right back!! He should be remembered with the greatest full backs of all time when he hangs up his boots. His loyalty has earned him the trophies he was missing in his career in the last few seasons. Maradona and Pekerman should have redone their coaching qualifications after not picking Zanetti for World Cups. I don't know what more you need to be a world class player!

  • Comment number 41.

    "The Inter Milan stalwart was controversially left out of the squad for both of the last two World Cups..."

    *each of the last two World Cups.

  • Comment number 42.

    At 19:26 22nd Aug 2011, thedudeabidez wrote:

    Hi Tim. I'm just curious why you think it has to be Hernanes in place of Lucas rather than alongside him? For me Lucas would probably be a more suitable foil than say, Ramires, as he's more disciplined in that role forr me and has a better range of passing, he's also a very effective winner of the ball. He hasn't got the lung power or mobility of Ramires but I don't think that matters too as he's more of a sitter.

    Hey, thedude, I don't rate Lucas Leiva personally. I think Liverpool have turned Lucas into a very solid Premiership player who doesn't let them down in the role they ask him to play (similar to Fletcher at Man Utd) but I don't think he is right for international football or a successful Brazil. He's average in comparison to some of the talent they possess. I would rather see more appearances from the likes of Hernanes, Jadson, Douglas Costa, Sandro, and of course Ganso in the centre of their midfield. For example, Sandro is a much better player in that holding role than Lucas. I think Lucas is a Premiership-style effective box to box midfielder, but that is not the best type of player for Brazil in international football in my opinion.

  • Comment number 43.

    Quick question for you Tim. Is there a reason why you don't write more frequently? South American futbol has a rich tapestry of styles, personalities, intrigue, politics, and the occassional gun shot. Surely, this deserves better than sporadic coverage. On Zanetti, he is one of a long line of excellent full backs to come out of South America. However, there will be more in the future. I am always amazed that once fans are pessimistic about their team's prospects they seek solace in the past. In reality, every team has barren and productive spells. Like the seasons, this is a natural ebb and flow. The 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's we revere periodically had forgettable national teams from Argentina, Brazil, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, England (all the time), and West Germany (as it then was).

    Time is a thief that has robbed Zanetti of his vigour but he will always be remembered by futbol fans worldwide. If only we could stop time ... Zico, Falcao, Socrates, Eder, Cerezo, Junior, Leandro, Luisinho ... will still float on air, cruising through tight spaces as if propelled by a graceful cosmic wind, their legs shuffling like the wings of a butterfly, conjuring orgasmic feints, back heels, nutmegs and bicycle kicks .... flap ... flap ... flap ... now you see me, now you don't. Alas, we can't stop time, but we can touch heaven once in a while. Ditto: Barcelona.

  • Comment number 44.

    Zanetti is a real legend, in my opinion the best right back ever from Argentina and probably one of the top 5 of all time at the position. Replacing him will not be easy but ever since Zabaleta first came to attention at the 2005 U20 World Cup I have always viewed him as Zanetti's natural successor. He obviously is not as good as Zanetti but he can fill the role adequately enough.

    It is not just Zanetti but many of his generation (Sorin, Claudio Lopez, Samuel, Riquelme, Crespo, et al.) who have occasionally been considered as being "bad luck." Personally I do not buy that and I was outraged that a normally sensible coach like Jose Pekerman refused to select Zanetti for the 2006 World Cup. Maradona excluding Zanetti in 2010 after he played such a key role in Inter's treble winning season was equally baffling.

    Tim does raise an interesting thought about Argentina's productive youth talent seemingly drying up. Although I would caution using success or lack of at World Youth Cups as being an accurate gauge of a nation's development of young stars. In 2009 Argentina failed to qualify for the U20 World Cup (with a team coached by Sergio Batista by the way) but the best player in that age group, Javier Pastore, was not given permission by his then club Huracan to participate in South America's U20 championship that year. It is still too early to tell if players who did play in 2009 qualifying like Eduardo Salvio and Federico Fernandez or some of the 2011 class like Erik Lamela, Juan Iturbe and Esteban Andrada will develop into stars but Pastore does seem on that path.

    One advantage South American nations have from selling players to overseas clubs is it does give younger players an opportunity for first team football at a younger age than most of their European counterparts. This, in addition to the general emphasis placed on these tournaments, is why I think nations like Argentina and Brazil have so much success at the U20 level.

    But once those players achieve some success then they too are often sold overseas. blade runner's [#39 above] point about the "europeanisation" of many of Argentina's and Brazil's top players is an argument which does get brought up from time to time in South America. I do not personally buy the belief that by playing in Europe, South Americans somehow lose their instinctive South American style of play or their ability to defeat European national teams. Brazil's success in the past decade and a half is I think proof of that.

    Soccer Futbol Forum:

  • Comment number 45.

    Wishing Argentina and Nigeria a warm Welcome to Bangladesh............ The match will be played at the Bangabandhu Stadium ... which incidentally was the venue for the 2011 Cricket World cup opening Ceremony

  • Comment number 46.

    A class player for nearly 2 decades now whoever you support.

    I must say Mr Vickery's articles are by far the most insightful and analytic of any football blogs anywhere. I genuinely have to give thought to his comments and most of the reader's responses. This is in stark contrast to the normal blogs related to hyeprbole of Premier League Big 5 (or is it 6 now) and witless churn and responses from armchair pundits of said Big Clubs which descend into farce and name calling.

    Maybe it is the subject matter that makes it more interesting

  • Comment number 47.

    Creative, constructive, composed, visionary and attack-minded full-backs are rare in international football. Such are the ones who are easily given the captain's armband. Long serving Javier has been outstanding for club and country.

    Over a hundred and twenty thousand knowledgeable football fans would have loved to watch the elegant Javier when Argentina face Venezuela at the Salt Lake Stadium here in the City of Joy.

    Wishing the Albicelestes and La Vinotinto a fine stay in Kolkata. Suswagatham.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 48.

    8 - that's cheered me up no end (apart from it making me feel ancient, thinking that most of those players are now retired).
    A mention of the mighty SWOS on this fine column. Bless you.
    There must be a few left still, off the top of my head David James is still going.

    Francisco Palencia still going strong at 38! He would be at Cruz Azul on the 96/97 version.

    I'm sure there's a good number of others, don't panic.

  • Comment number 49.

    At no.8 and No.48 Brilliant shout!! Who else is left playing that was on SWOS is Giggs one?

    What a fantastic piece Tim but do you think that Zanetti will get the praise he deserves in his home country? Especially if they all think that he is a unlucky omen!


  • Comment number 50.

    All the money grabbing footballers should take note. Zanetti, Giggs, Maldini, Totti, Del Piero, Gerrard - all legends for their respective clubs because of their loyalty. Who will remember the likes of Berbatov and Tevez in future years with such fondness?

  • Comment number 51.

    Great piece!

    In fairness to Zanetti in the Uruguay game last month (and I wonder if I'm the only one who can remember the leadup to this), the shot that Higuain had early in extra-time (I think) that hit the near post came after he was played in by Zanetti, coming inside and playing a smart ball behind the defence. That shot goes in and suddenly Zanetti at LB wouldn't have appeared to be such an issue - that's not to say it shouldn't have been, of course it was in an attacking sense for a 37 yo, but the margins between success and failure can be so small.

    I echo everyone else's sentiments here about Javier. After his 2006 omission I was always confident he'd keep going strong and make WC 2010 at 36 and nearly 37 (until Diego decided to go heavy with centre-backs in his defence), but sadly it would be surely too much of a stretch to make 2014 at 40 and nearly 41. Then again, in terms of experienced versatile reserves (he can also play in midfield) to bring off the bench late in games while protecting a lead, there might not still be anyone better for Argentina by then... Even being dropped for much of the 2014 qualifiers might work in his favour in terms of his longevity, as perhaps the summers off in 2006 and 2010 did... Yeah I'm grasping at staws.


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