“In the first team, the politics of the moment meant that most of the side were made up of academy players and galacticos, and I wasn’t either of those.”
Despite never quite fitting in at Real Madrid, Esteban Cambiasso still added winners’ medals for La Liga, the UEFA Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup and Supercopa de Espana to a career trophy haul that has made Cuchu one of Argentina’s most decorated players of all-time.
The unfashionable, unassuming midfielder hasn’t ever been one of the game’s superstars as perhaps a place in the Real Madrid side dictates but wherever Cambiasso has gone, success has followed.
At 37 and after back-to-back league titles in Greece with Olympiacos, Cambiasso has decided it’s time to hang up the boots but having already passed his UEFA professional coaching course the midfielder is qualified to take up a role working with youth sides or as an assistant.
Applying the utmost professionalism to a career spanning more than 20 years and working under some of world football’s best coaches, Cambiasso looks to be preparing for a new challenge and is well placed to continue his success.
Despite being part of a golden generation of Argentine youngsters, who had lifted the under-20 World Cup in 1997, it was after those two years back at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu when Cambiasso really established himself.
Moving to Inter in July 2004, Cuchu helped the Nerazzurri to the Coppa Italia in his first season and over the course of the next decade would add five Serie A titles, three further Coppa Italias, four Supercoppas, the FIFA Club World Cup and his crowning glory, The Champions League.
Playing alongside compatriot Juan Sebastián Verón upon first arriving in Milan, Cambiasso was also becoming a vital player for the national team.
When former under-20 coach José Pékerman took his talented Argentina squad of Riquelme, Aimar, Sorín, Saviola, Crespo, Ayala and a young Lionel Messi to the World Cup in 2006, La Albiceleste were among the favourites — this only intensified when Cambiasso scored one of the greatest goals in the tournament’s history during the 6-0 demolition of Serbia and Montenegro.
The campaign would ultimately end in failure at the hands of hosts Germany on penalties; one of the few titles to escape the reaches of Cambiasso.
However back in Milan, Cambiasso was yet to reach his peak. Jose Mourinho’s arrival at the club in 2008, may not have brought with it the beautiful football that Argentina had seduced the world with but it was effective and hugely successful.
“He was fundamental in my golden team,” Mourinho said of Cambiasso. An indefatigueable workrate, an efficient passer and astute tactical awareness made the Argentine ideal for Inter’s midfield and with the likes of Javier Zanetti, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito, Inter recorded a historic treble.
Leaving Inter as his contract expired in 2014 it would have been easy to assume that Cambiasso’s career was winding down but the veteran signed a one-year deal with Leicester City and not only played an instrumental role in the Foxes Premier League survival but was named Player of the Year.
Turning down the offer to stay at the King Power Stadium, Cambiasso signed with Olympiacos and in his two-year spell helped the Greek giants to consecutive league titles.
Many had hoped Cucho might leave his final sojourn for a return to Argentina but the midfielder expressed little interest in playing back in his homeland.
A product of Argentinos Juniors, Cambiasso left Los Bichos as a teenager to join Real Madrid’s academy and aside from spells with Independiente and River Plate before returning to Madrid, the midfielder has spent his entire career in Europe.
Where his coaching career may take him is unclear. Two of his former under-20 colleagues, Pablo Aimar and Diego Placente are now coaching the next generation of Argentina’s youth sides and while job offers back home may come in, Cambiasso is likely to have options in Europe.
When leaving Inter as a player, Technical director Piero Ausilio said, “I’m convinced that in his future he’ll have a role at Inter,” and with Javier Zanetti now director of football at the club, a triumphant return could be an option.