Diego Milito: Unfashionably lethal

'The Prince' is ready to pounce on unsuspecting defences in South Africa if Argentine manager Diego Maradona will let him.
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'The Prince' is ready to pounce on unsuspecting defences in South Africa if Argentine manager Diego Maradona will let him.

Whether he actually likes it or not, Diego Milito is suddenly hot property. After watching his two goals against Bayern at the Bernabeu, an impressed Dino Zoff likened the Inter forward to a prime-time Paolo Rossi. The old Azzurri stopper was specifically referring to the two players’ technique and style in front of goal, but the comparison can easily be extended; both were relative latecomers to the big stage, both have unassuming, shy personalities, both blessed with a happy knack of scoring decisive goals in key games.

Milito certainly has the perfect, unfussy character for playing the advanced striker role, one that in European competition has regularly seen him left to his own devices while his colleagues get busy squeezing that midfield. The 31-year-old Argentine has been wonderfully effective in a highly-technical Nerazzurri side, a true centre forward with the ability to create time and space in the tightest of situations, but can he play in a deeper role, can he play off a strike partner, can he, with the World Cup about to kick off, handle Diego Maradona’s idiosyncratic man-management style?

His recent medal haul aside, il Principe (the Prince) has a modest CV: overlooked by the big Buenos Aires clubs, he spent four years at unfashionable Racing; in Italy only Genoa were intially prepared to take a gamble (he had two stints with the Ligurians, the first when they were struggling to get out of Serie B), while in Spain he had three seasons at Real Zaragoza, under the radar of the Madrid/Barca-obsessed media. Milito earns a third of some of his more high-profile teammates at Inter and the Italian press have been suggesting that he could now follow the artfully blubbing Jose Mourinho to Madrid, with Bayern and Manchester City also rumoured to be interested.

"The 31-year-old Argentine has been wonderfully effective in a highly-technical Nerazzurri side."

It’s a tough one. Inter, with a new coach, may well struggle next season under the weight of heightened expectations. In Europe, a more open playing style could see them lose that crucial effectiveness they had when they weren’t in possession of the ball. Go elsewhere and Milito could find himself slightly out of position, expected to muck in more, or play a more supporting role. He certainly won’t have Wesley Sneijder pulling the back four out of shape and creating little openings for him. And in the meantime of course there’s Argentina.

Maradona has been quick to point out that each player has an equal chance, but perhaps more telling was his recent criticism of Inter’s playing style. Milito is one of six strikers in the squad and will be jostling for a starting place with Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Maxi Rodriguez, Sergio Aguero and, less impressively, Martin Palermo. If the Champions League final was all about Mourinho, the World Cup, or at least Argentina’s progress through the tournament, will be all about Maradona. He may well be a madman, but he’s no fool. Milito’s success this past season has been thanks to rigorously-structured, disciplined tactics and his namesake, old footballing romantic that he is, isn’t about to change his Messi-biased system to accommodate Inter’s new hero.