MILAN - Gianni Riotta splits his time between New York - where he lectures at Princeton University - and Italy. He answers the phone in the US, where it's early in the morning, as waking up at dawn is part of his efforts to keep informed, something which has made him the great journalist he is today. He has a wealth of experience in the industry and has dedicated much of the last eight months to his passion, the Nerazzurri, putting together Javier Zanetti's story.
"The book was supposed to celebrate the captain's 40th birthday, at the start I acted as a go between with publishers Mondadori, then he asked me to write it. That's how 'Giocare da uomo' ('Play like a man') came about."
And while writing the book, Zanetti and Riotta got to know one another. A famous journalist and writer - who didn't make his name in football - and the captain. Eight months of trips to Argentina and Italy to collect snippets of his life, tales of his family, stories of poverty and hard work. Riotta smiles as he thinks back to his first conversation with Javier.
"I told him straight away that it would be difficult to portray him as a man of integrity, no sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. A nice, handsome, good catholic boy: no one will believe it, I told him. The biography starts in his hometown Buenos Aires, before telling his life story."
He talks about everything in the book.
"Gradually different subjects came up, his view of the dressing room, his team-mates, coaches, those he got on with, those he didn't, but also racism, homosexuality and his relationship with the press: it's the full story."
And Zanetti, typically so sensible, even showed an eccentric side.
"He's so normal and yet he was there in the dressing room in Madrid talking to the Champions League trophy, telling it out loud that he'd chased her, just missed out on her, before finally getting his hand on hers and how he would never let her go."
The captain's loves, alongside his more 'human' passions: his family and the Pupi Foundation.
"It was an experience to go around his neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, his foundation is not far from there. I believe that Dock Sud is one of the most dangerous areas in all of South America, we were advised not to go too far, but it didn't matter to him. And they were all grateful to him there, they were hanging out of buses and lorries, it was a very emotional experience."
Eight months to get to know each other, write the book and settle on a title. 'Giocare da uomo' ('Play like a man') is out now, published by Mondadori.
Click here to download the first chapter of the captain's book (in Italian)
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