Political Footballers XI: Right-back Javier Zanetti

Going in at right-back in the Political Footballers XI is Internazionale defender Javier Zanetti.  Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1973, Zanetti began his football career at Talleres de Remedios de Escalada.  He played in the second division for one season before being sold to Banfield.

He was recommended to Inter by scout and legendary former Inter player Juan Valentin Angelillo (Foot:435) and in 1995 he moved to Italy.  He became Internazionale owner Massimo Moratti’s first purchase for the club.

He made his debut in a home game against Vicenza, and has been at the club ever since, playing over 600 games.  He quickly became a fan favourite and was made club captain due to his tenacious tackling, cool defending and consistent performances.  He has played on both sides of the back four, and even spent some time playing in midfield.

Zanetti is well-known for his interest in and support for social issues in Latin America.  He is a FIFA ambassador, and created the Fundacion PUPI with his wife to aid the social integration of poor children in Argentina.

His ‘credentials’ as a political footballer though are based on his involvement with the Zapatista Movement in Mexico.  Emiliano Zapata was an agrarian reformer and leader of the ‘Ejercito Libertador del Sur’ and hero of the Mexican Revolution.  He was killed in an ambush in 1919.  The Zapatista Movement that exists in his name consists of Mexican peasants, farmers and workers.  They seek to change the system of government in Mexico, primarily through nonviolent means.  They reject the consequences of globalisation and neoliberal economics in Mexico.  The preservation of indigenous ways of life and autonomous decision-making are their primary goals.

At Zanetti’s instigation Inter sent €5000 to the Zapatistas following a paramilitary attack on a village near the Mexico/Guatemala border, as well as paying for an ambulance and sending football clothing and equipment.  The money was raised through fining Inter’s players for being late or using mobile phones at the wrong time.  In a letter to the Zapatistas (in Arie & Tuckman), Zanetti wrote:

‘We believe in a better world, in an unglobalised world, enriched by the cultural differences and customs of all the people.  This is why we want to support you in this struggle to maintain your roots and fight for your ideals.’

Following this the leader of the rebel group, one Subcomandante Marcos, wrote a slightly surreal letter to Massimo Moratti.  The Subcomandante invited Inter to play a game, or a series of games, against a Zapatista XI.  Diego Maradona would referee, Jorge Valdano and Javier Aguirre would be the assistants.  Brazil midfielder Socrates would be the fourth referee.  Eduardo Galeano and Mario Benedetti would do the play-by-play for the ‘Zapatista System of Intergalactic Television, the only tv to be read not watched.’  The pre-match entertainment would be provided by lesbians and gays, particularly transsexuals and transvestites, in order to differentiate these games from the objectification of women.  (re-printed in Kuhn: 2011)

In Zanetti’s autobiography he writes that he decided to encourage Inter to support the Zapatistas because ‘solidarity knows no colour, no religion and no political side.  These communities fight to make their culture recognized as well as a different way of economical and political organization, of surviving and of identity.’  He believes that the Subcomandate is ‘fighting to give back life and dignity to the pre-Colombian populations of Mexico; he’s the soldier of the losers of the Earth, of the forgotten, of the non-recognized ones though they learned to never give up, under no condition.’

The games were never played but Zanetti writes that he would be pleased to go and play in Chiapas, that it wouldn’t be a problem for him.

The majority of supporters of Internazionale were traditionally from the political right-wing, with some ‘long-suffering left-wing’ sympathisers (Foot, 2007).  And although the supporters of rival club Milan were traditionally left-wing, the team is now owned by President of Italy, media-mogul and former cruise ship crooner, Silvio Berlusconi.  Zanetti’s support for a Mexican revolutionary group and the alter-mundialista forces of anti-globalisation would have surprised many fans on both sides of San Siro, and no doubt a few teammates too.  With his support for social initiatives in poor countries and a strong aversion to the harm being done by the forces of globalisation, Javier Zanetti gets a place in the Political Footballers XI.

Go here to read the other articles in this series: Political Footballers XI


Arie, Sophie & Tuckman, Jo (2004) Italian soccer stars support guerrillas’ in The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/oct/19/mexico

Foot, John (2007) ‘Calcio: A History of Italian Football’.  Harper Perennial, London, UK.

Kuhn, Gabriel (2011) ‘Soccer and the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics‘.  PM Press.

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