Football is an interesting sport where players peak by the time they reach 26 to 28 years old. After that, time begins to catch up to them, injuries become more prevalent, their role with their team begins to diminish and eventually a player will bounce around from team to team before they eventually hang up their boots.
In this day and age, players rarely stay with one team for the majority of their career. But, we have been fortunate to see players like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville become legends with Manchester United.
Over in Italy, we have seen players like Francesco Totti play his entire career at Roma. Alessandro Del Piero has spent 99 percent of his career with Juventus, in both their good times and recent struggles over the last few years. Just recently, the football world saw one of the greatest defenders of all-time, Paolo Maldini, retire after spending his entire career with AC Milan.
Now at 37 years young, Javier Zanetti, continues to play at the highest level and shows no signs of slowing down. Despite playing in Argentina for a couple of years before making the move to Inter Milan at 22 years old, Zanetti has embodied all the traits of a true leader—reliability, versatility and consistency.
When he became the owner of Inter Milan, Massimo Moratti's first ever purchase was Zanetti. Over the years at Inter, he established a reputation for his consistency and reliability. In 1999, he was rewarded with the captain's armband after another player who spent his entire career with Inter, Giuseppe Bergomi, retired.
Since then, Zanetti has yet to let down his teammates and fans around the world by playing at a world-class level in every game.
Always known as a right back, Zanetti showed his true class when Maicon joined Inter for the 2006-07 season. Instead of sitting the bench or making a stink out of the situation, "Pupi" showed his versatility by switching over to the left side of backline. To further show how versatile he really is, he moved up to the midfield when key midfielders went down due to injury and shined in the process.
In one of his strongest performances, Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso both worked together to shut down Lionel Messi during the semifinals of the 2009-10 Champions League campaign, an accomplishment hardly anyone can boast.
Not bad for a player who is supposed to be winding down his career. Like a fine wine, Zanetti continues to get better with time.
As a further testament to how strong and legendary Zanetti's career has been, his role with Argentina's national team has been an interesting topic of discussion over the last four years. Ever since he earned his first cap in 1994, Zanetti has become the most capped player of all-time for Argentina.
Despite the fact that Zanetti has 14 trophies and counting from his time with Inter, he has zero trophies with Argentina. Call it bad luck or poor team form, Argentina has not been able to win anything in nearly 20 years at both the continental and international scene.
For all the caps and number of times Zanetti has been relied upon to anchor the defense, he has been controversially omitted from the 2006 and 2010 world cup squads when he was head and shoulders the best option at RB, LB and even better than some of the midfielders used by the various managers over the years.
In 2006, Jose Pekerman snubbed Zanetti for Lionel Scaloni, who only has seven caps to his resume. In 2010, Diego Maradona passed on Zanetti for domestic defender Ariel Garce ($5 if you can tell me where he is now).
No one really knows why he was excluded from those squads. Perhaps it was jealousy or resentment from Maradona and Pekerman for how classy and legendary Zanetti has become over the years. It certainly had nothing to do with form. Gabriel Heinze and Martin Demichelis, who have been regulars with the national team for several years, both have been cancers on the pitch, yet they continue to get called up.
In a more dubious decision, Zanetti was stripped of the captain's armband in favor of Javier Mascherano. Despite his lack of form over the years at Liverpool and his part-time status at Barcelona this year, Mascherano continues to lead the national team. Calling on Zanetti for all the qualifier games but not the World Cup itself can be considered a crime against football.
In any case, il Capitano is the embodiment of a true leader. Despite being 37 years old, he is still reliable enough to maintain world class form in the Serie A, Champion's League and International stage. No matter who is in charge of Inter, Zanetti still plays over 50 games a year, something that many players in their mid 20s cannot even do.
Hopefully the football world will see him leading the Albiceleste in 2014. Chances are that even at 41, he will be the best option for Argentina in either fullback role. He shows no signs of slowing down, so chances are the football world will enjoy Javier Zanetti for more years to come.