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El Principe: The lesser known Diego of Argentina

1.12K   //    13 Aug 2010, 23:38 IST

Andre Agassi, Michael Hussey, Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Sawhn, Rocky Marciano, Roger Milla and Sir Stanley Matthews are a few names that come to my mind when I think of a certain Argentine. What do I see common among these great names? Well, I’ll tell you. They have all achieve major success much later in their career. By some means or the other, they were unknown names in the household for much of their career. These legends have often being termed as “Late Bloomers” and the man I would be talking of is no different.

Diego Milito

Diego Milito

Andre Agassi, surely a tennis legend. His encounters with Pete Sampras have been legendary. You can say he did win the Wimbledon as a 22 years old Las Vegas boy. With his long hair he soon became a heart throb of the nation but then he seemingly got lost in the obscurity. Only latter in his career and some of his critics might say after Pete’s retirement he got back his glory days. Agassi was revelation in this post-30 career. He was possibly one of the best at that time. Similarly, Hussey, who easily was the best batsmen in the world only a few years but had not seen international cricket till the age of 29. And similar are the cases for the other superstars too.

There are numerous such sportsperson who got recognition much later in their career than they should have and there are numerous reasons for it. And this is not just evident in sports but other fields too but then in a career that spans for just 15 years that too for a handful of people, the usage of “Late Bloomers” can be found in the sports more than any other profession.

Now coming back to the person I’ll be talking of. Diego Alberto Milito, an Argentine footballer, presently applying his trade at Internazionale, the present Champions League and Seria A winners and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that, along with Wesley Sneijder, Milito was the epicenter for all the glory that have come to their way this year. Known as Il Principe or The Prince, he had been such a huge hit for the Milan based powerhouse that the memories of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had a brilliant season the previous year, had all but faded away from the minds of the Inter Milan fans.

Born in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires , on June the 12, 1979, he had very humble beginning. In 1999, he was 1st introduce to club football when a relatively small club named Racing took him. In 2001, they won the Apertura tournament, with Diego playing a relatively small role in the team. Better known as Gabriel Milito’s elder brother for most of his career. Gabriel use to play for Independiente, a Argentine giant and in the Avallaneda derby , both brother could be seen playing against each other. Gabriel Milito, a defender at Barcelona, rose to prominence much before Diego with big European clubs lining up for him. There were offers from Real Madrid, Barcelona and many other big named clubs who wanted to cash in on this Argentine defender. He later chose Real Zaragoza, a club which played a key role in Diego’s life too, above the big named superpowers. While younger brother was moving up, Diego was strolling around in the Argentine league.

In 2004, the big European move came for Diego Milito. Italian club named Genoa gave him an opportunity to shine at the big stage. There were big doubts if this move will be a success for or not. South Americans have not really made a big impact over in Italian league, except for Kaka and Diego Maradona. Seria A has never been a place for beautiful football, trickery or cheekiness which Argentina is famous for. Football over here is robust, hard and filled with tactical brilliance. There was a big question mark on his success over there but then the person that he is, determined, hard working and exceptionally talented. Diego grabbed this opportunity with both hands.

For the next 2 years, he transformed Genoa for a lowly club struggling for survival to a club fighting for a place in the last four. Scoring a mammoth 33 goals in 58 matches which a brilliant achievement in Italian league, he had attained cult status in Genoa in just two years.  In 2006, as Calciopoli came to light, Genoa was one of the teams to suffer. Diego, though heart-broken had to leave. This time he moved to Spain where he was to join his brother Gabriel. For years they had played against each other, this time they were to play side by side. After already establishing the striker that he was, he quickly settled in the Spanish League. His true potential came when Zaragoza simply annihilated Real Madrid 6-1 with Milito bagging 4 goals. In the 2006-07 season he wall the one of the leading goal scorer only in Spain but also in Europe. He missed the Golden Boot award just by a whisker. Over the course of three years, he kept on scoring at a brisk rate. In his 3 years stay at Real Zaragoza he notched up 53 goals in around 100 odd games which is a brilliant achievement seeing he was mostly employed as a single striker.

Even though Diego Milito was scoring numerous goals, he was still an unknown played in the annals of football. Next up, Gabrial left for Barcalona and Diego was made team captain. With his as the captain, he transformed his games to a higher level and with this, Real Zaragova achieved 6th position in the league, sometimes they had not done for a long time. But the next year, it was a poor season for both Milito and Zaragoza, with Milito’s goals not coming as the pace he use to deliver and a untimely injury meant  Zaragoza was relegated to the 2nd division.

At the start of the 2008-2009 season, many clubs were trying to employ the services of the lesser known Milito. In the end, Genoa, his 1st European club was successful in signing him up. Milito had always been a favourite at Genoa and now with much more experience, he had a season which every player could only dream of. He had always been a natural goalscorer all his life; in this season too he showed his class by scoring 24 goals in 31 outings. He was 2nd in the goalscoring charts, 1st being a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Diego Milito had been in exceptional form for the past few years and still an unknown player, mainly because he had been playing for relatively smaller clubs and with their inability to qualify for the Champion league, Milito was denied a chance to play against big clubs and attract lucrative offers.

And to the surprise of many, with Jose Mourinho as the coach of Inter Milan, and the Zlatan-Eto’o saga was underway, he played a masterstroke by signing in Diego Milito in exchange of a handful of players. And instantly a new chapter was written in the history of Inter Milan. The master tactician had one again played his best move. With Zanetti and Cambiasso properly placed, Jose brought in Sniejder too. And Inter Milan was a transformed team. Diego Milito and Wesley Sneijder should be taken in the same light as the likes Mazzola, Facchetti, Bergomi and many more for their performance this season. Inter Milan literally won each and every trophy that could be won in this season and at the centre of this was Diego Milito. And when he scored the 2 goals in the Champions League final, he clearly showed to the whole world the type of player and person he is. One of the most lethal strikers in the world and one who is humble, quite, and with a cool mind. Rarely will you find him agitated or frustrated no matter how tough or infuriating the opponents are.

Although Milito may have found a strong grip on club football at a very late age, international football still remains a dream for him. In this year’s world cup, although he did make the squad, but the likes of Messi, Tevez and Aguero and now the Higuain, he rarely made the starting eleven in the world cup. Although people may say he is like the wine which gets better with age, it would be a wild bet if gets a nod before the above mentioned names.

Diego Milito , whom the English media once confused with his younger brother and said that it’s good that he had left his defensive position to play as a forward. For the player, who has scored 100 odd goals in past 4 to 5 years, whom half the world knew as Gabriel’s elder brother and half thought that it was Gabriel himself, he has really come of age and have delivered when it matter the most. Jose Mourinho had claimed that he is the best “big game player” and this season he had shown that he truly fits the bill. The way he almost single handedly dismantled A.C. Milan in the 1st Milan derby this season shows the ability to adapt to the new surroundings.

It was sad that he could only come on as a substitute for Argentina and didn’t play the big part for the team as he had done on so many occasions and for so many clubs. His determination and technical brilliance could have brought a new dimension to the Argentine game but with the most popular Diego in the world at the helm of it, it was never likely to happen.

Diego Milito may just be around for the next 4 to 5 years and with his a player of his age, he may not deliver the way he has done till now. But then he has always been doubted and he has risen to answer his critics in the best way possible. Diego Milito, or Il Principe and whatever name you can choose to call him, is a gem of a player and he may not be remember among the present stars like Ronaldo, Messi or Kaka but nobody can deny that he had always deliver as and when he was like to do so.

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