Diego Milito: Inter Milan’s forgotten big game performer

Harry Burford
Harry Burford
Harry Burford
Contributor

Inter Milan’s Champions League winning XI of the 2009/10 campaign was a side built on efficiency, class, and sheer Mourinho inspired pragmatism.

The famous Nerazzurri would have no time for tired passengers on route to claiming their prized European trophy. They were forthright and direct in their approach, ready to claim the illustrious treble with all the determination and grace of battle-hardened soldiers on the brink of that all-important final skirmish.

With a selection of hard-nosed international defenders keeping things tight and resolute at the back, and each of Wesley Sneijder and Esteban Cambiasso sent to aid the notoriously influential Samuel Eto’o in attack – it comes as no surprise that Inter ultimately proved so dangerous under Jose Mourinho. Theirs was a style that worked wonders upon the grandest club stage of all, even without a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic working his usually inspired magic up top.

Yet within such a squad of well-versed professionals and accomplished virtuosos, the San Siro faithful would nonetheless find themselves relying upon the goal-scoring exploits of one remarkably effective target-man above all else. Alongside Inter’s most prized attacking assets stood a lofty Argentine striker with the goal forever locked in his sights. He was imposing, impactful – and not to mention downright dangerous whenever set free anywhere inside the final third.

His was a legacy that seemingly departed the realms of modern day football almost as soon as it first arrived – for when you think of all the great centre-forwards to grace the European game with their confident sense of style, panache and sheer charisma in one-on-one situations – the name ‘Diego Milito’ arguably fails to crop up as much as it perhaps should.

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Put in no uncertain terms whatsoever, Diego Milito represented an absolute goal-scoring machine during his playing days at Inter. No top-flight European defender could ever consider themselves safe when tasked with stopping the lofty South American. His goal-scoring ability was clear for all to behold whilst operating in front of the famous blue & black crowds at the San Siro.

When it came to displaying total composure inside the opposition’s half, the former Argentine international would fail to disappoint. In terms of popping up at the right place and time on almost every given occasion, Milito was arguably second to none. He was dynamic in the way he went about his business, intelligent and resoundingly clinical too.

Although he’d never proven the quickest or most technically gifted centre-forward operating upon the European stage, Milito possessed a goal-scoring ability that simply couldn’t be taught. The man was an out-in-out natural in front of goal.

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Yet things weren’t always so straightforward for the striker nicknamed ‘El Principe’ back in his native homeland of Argentina. Although Milito enjoyed several profitable campaigns whilst playing for both Genoa of the Italian Serie A, as well as Real Zaragoza in Spain, few title challenging European sides saw enough potential in the emerging frontman to really take a punt on him.

The South American was considered something of fortunate centre-forward, clearly lacking in terms of sheer technical prowess and obvious talent with the ball stuck firmly at his feet. In the eyes of some, Milito relied upon his outstanding sense of luck rather than judgement. With so many other top-flight strikers looking to stake their claim in Europe at the time, the Argentine attacker simply failed to stand out among his supposedly superior counterparts.

But shortly after turning 30-years-of-age and amounting but a mere handful of hard-earned caps for the Argentinian national side, Jose Mourinho and Inter would eventually come a-callin’. The Nerazzurri would finally see fit to splash €28 million on the in-form striker, a fee that would one day go onto represent a real bargain for the Italians within the grand scheme of things.

Milito scored 30 well-taken goals within his debut campaign at the San Siro, including a vital double against Louis van Gaal’s Bayern in the Champions League final. He would go on to help Inter Milan achieve the treble that season, subsequently winning praise as both the UEFA and Serie A player of the year. Not bad going for a player who had previously failed to amount a single European trophy to his name…

In a sense, Diego Milito represented the archetypal Mourinho player. He could be tough and dogmatic when he needed to be, proving hard working and effective far more often than not. The Argentine striker may have lacked an otherworldly sense of control when weaving through opposing defenders like a hot knife through butter, yet his all-round goal-scoring ability was never in question.

Whilst Milito’s later career at Inter would seemingly be blighted by injury, the South American hitman nonetheless left the San Siro as a well-deserved hero. Although he almost single-handedly saw his side through among the 2010 Champions League final, the former Argentine Primera Division striker somehow missed out on a place among the Ballon d’Or shortlist that season. A stark insult in light of all his recent achievements.

Today, Diego Milito’s status has undoubtedly dwindled within the modern footballing community. The out-in-out goal-scorer has retired from the beautiful game as something of a forgotten artist, someone who never quite reached the everlasting acclaim his reputation as a fierce finisher arguably deserved.

Although Milito’s achievements within the wider European game have somehow been lost on some, ‘El Principe’ is still thankfully admired by all those who cheered his name and loved to watch him play at the San Siro. He helped Inter become champions of Europe during his debut campaign at their club, and on the back of that simple fact alone – Diego Milito should always be remembered accordingly.