MILAN – Javier Zanetti stopped to chat to reporters as he arrived at the 11th anniversary party of the PUPI Foundation, the charity he and his wife set up to help disadvantaged children in Argentina.
What has happened in these 11 years since the PUPI Foundation came into being?
"It seems like only yesterday but there have been so many years and so many moments. I wanted to thank all those who have supported my foundation, for the sensitivity they have shown to what we do. We're staying strong and pushing ahead with our work despite the difficult period we're in. If the foundation keeps growing and the kids are happy and well, that's all that matters. They're finally getting the love and affection they were missing – that's the main thing."
Do you ever think about the fact that you're a role model for youngsters, not only for what you've achieved on the pitch but also for what you do off it?
"I think many of my fellow footballers do a lot too and maybe people just don't know about it. We all try to do our bit and obviously the more of us there are, the better it is, because there are so many people in need throughout the world. We try to do what we can in our own small way."
As someone who represents the living memory of this team, how do you explain the difference in the side's home and away performances?
"We're trying to get the balance right because that's something we're lacking at the moment. There's a clear difference between our away matches, where we're doing very well, and our home games, where we're struggling. I think when you're on a new path as we are, assembling a new team, you need time to work together and to gel. When that's all sorted out we'll find the right balance while on the attack. We must do that as quickly as possible so that we can be up there challenging right till the end."
There are stories in the media claiming there's a lack of optimism at Inter, but that's not the impression you get from watching training.
"The optimism is there all right, I can tell you that. Because with this group, in this early phase of the season, every time we've come up against a bit of difficulty we've bounced right back in the next game. That's something worth highlighting and we must try to make this group ever stronger so that we can help the younger players who have joined to do the best they can for Inter."
Some people are saying that Sneijder's position is a problem at the moment and that Inter played better against Chievo after Cassano replaced the injured Dutchman. As the captain, how do you see it?
"I don't think that's the case, it was the start of the game. We knew we'd find it hard in the opening stages because there was very little space but I think the coach would have brought Cassano on anyway in the second half if things had remained all square. That was just an episode and unfortunately Wesley had to come off injured. The most important thing was that the team responded well to the new formation. We have an awful lot of work to do because it's our first game with this system. But it's always best to get back to work after a win."
How did the idea of a three-man defence come about?
"We spoke about it a lot with the coach. We exchanged ideas and we thought that with the capabilities of our players a three-man defence would be better – that's how it started. We tried it out in what little time was available. It was the first game against Chievo and the first positive was the result of course. We can see we have to improve certain aspects but the main thing is that we're all convinced we can carry this idea forward."
What was the problem last season when your coach at the time Gian Piero Gasperini tried to use the same system with disappointing results? Was Stramaccioni good at convincing you?
"I wouldn't compare it with Gasperini, we had players with different capabilities back then. This year we came around to this change of formation after ten or twelve games and we did it when the coach realised we were a bit unbalanced and at certain stages of the game we were suffering."
Against Siena you sat on the bench for the first time in four years. What was it like to experience the match in that way?
"It was really tough because unfortunately we lost and from the outside you do suffer, but it was perfectly normal to be on the subs bench and I think the coach knows full well that I'm at his disposal. It was bound to happen sooner or later and there might be many more games I play no part in. I realise this is the birth of a new Inter and I'm here at the coach's complete service – he knows he can count on me both on and off the pitch. That's the way forward."