Inter Milan's woes continue to unravel after record-chasing Javier Zanetti goes down with an Achilles injury and will have season-ending surgery, writes Ian Hawkey.
Serie A: Injury bug bites Javier Zanetti as veteran joins Inter Milan's walking wounded
Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti started talking about the "virus" of injuries afflicting his troubled club several weeks ago. With the number of squad members now out of action standing at 15, it is more than just a vivid turn of phrase.
But when you are a president of a club with one of the game's most notorious records for overstaffing and restless turnover, it is hard to gain many commiserations for strained resources.
Now that Inter's most widely respected employee has been affected, though, sympathy pours forth. Javier Zanetti has long seemed fashioned out of granite, unbreakable.
Some numbers: in his 18 seasons with Inter, he has only twice notched fewer than 30 matches for a league campaign, and never less than 25. Guess who has recorded most matches this term? Zanetti, the oldest man in the squad.
One of the catchphrases to describe Inter's evergreen Argentine is "Inter-through-and-through". His astonishing longevity is indeed a monument to loyalty. It is even more remarkable given the neuroses and restless ins-and-outs at the club since he first turned up there, as a skilful 21 year old, in 1995.
Inter have changed head coaches an average of once a year in his time. He spent 12 years frustrated in the hunt for a domestic league title, 15 before he grasped the Uefa Champions League trophy.
Yes, Zanetti is Inter through-and-through, but in his stoic consistency, his professionalism, he has often radiated everything the institution he represents have not.
Famously adaptable, he has operated in both full-back positions for Inter, as a winger and in central midfield.
Zanetti was playing in his 1,101st senior career match on Sunday when, after 17 minutes, he snapped the Achilles tendon in his left foot and, clearly in excruciating pain, withdrew from what would be a 1-0 loss to Parma.
Suddenly, the assumption that Zanetti will play the 26 matches he needs to overtake Roberto Carlos, the Brazilian with the tireless battery, as the outfield player of modern times with the greatest number of games, has been challenged.
No wonder so many colleagues and competitors have been rolling out the red carpet. They may not get another chance to pay tribute.
Jose Mourinho, with whom he combined for Inter's 2010 treble, sent Zanetti a message of encouragement. So did Roma's Francesco Totti.
Zanetti is due to have surgery Wednesday. Given that he turns 40 in August, there is a genuine fear the granite man may not come back from it.
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