Inter's Milito hoping to book a World Cup spot with Argentina
Diego Milito has scored goals with stunning consistency in three different leagues
Milito is not assured of a place in Argentina's World Cup squad for South Africa
Milito's younger brother, Gabriel, was the bigger star earlier in their careers
Diego Milito's goal against Roma last week gave Internazionale a 1-0 victory and its first title of the season, the Copa Italia, and put the club on track to challenge for the triple that also includes the Italian League and Champions League trophies. But the final destination Milito is really gunning for is actually in South Africa with Argentina.
Milito has had a superlative season with Inter after signing for $31 million last May. He was among the top five Argentine transfers at the time, albeit in the shadow of fellow Inter acquisition Samuel Eto'o, the star signing of the season.
The productive 2009-2010 season is just a continuation of what Militio has done for the better part of a decade. A natural goal scorer, Milito started his professional career with Racing Club in Argentina in 1999. His younger brother, Gabriel, became the household name earlier, captaining archrival Independiente as a 21-year-old and gaining his place in the starting lineup. On the other hand, Diego took longer to settle into the first team, but he eventually became a crucial member of the squad that won the local tournament in 2001, its first such victory in more than three decades.
The brothers got a taste of the downside of fame and fortune in 2002 when their father was kidnapped during a time when Argentine footballers and their families were targeted. Negotiating the ransom money themselves, the brothers achieved the feat of getting both clubs to issue a joint communiqué of support for the family -- enemies on the pitch, family first off it.
After five seasons with Racing, Diego moved to Europe to join Genoa in Italy, where his 33 goals in 59 games over two seasons helped the club gain promotion to the first division, only to remain relegated after a judicial hearing docked points over a match-fixing scandal. As a result, Diego left for Zaragoza in Spain, where his brother was playing, and again made his mark as a pure striker. He scored 23 goals in 2006-07, two fewer than Golden Boot winner Ruud Van Nistelrooy of Real Madrid. In fact, from 2005-08, Milito scored 51 goals in 108 games, or about one every two appearances.
Milito returned to Genoa for the 2008-09 season after Zaragoza was relegated. According to his agent at the time, Fernando Hildago, he had offers from major clubs but chose to rejoin Genoa because he felt such loyalty to the club. At Genoa, his performance was described as "heroic" by fans, though he had a relatively low media profile. When he left, the terraces wept and banners were displayed with the words "better to have loved and lost you than to not have known you at all," according to the club's fan site. He scored 24 goals in 31 appearances that season, second only to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then at Inter.
Now himself with Inter, the 30-year-old Milito is in his prime, having scored once and recorded two assists against Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals and followed that up with what proved to be the game-winner in the Coppa Italia final.
But whereas his club record is impeccable, Milito is still pining for due recognition at the international level. His debut for Argentina came courtesy of then-manager Marcelo Bielsa in 2003; Milito scored Argentina's two goals against Uruguay in a friendly that until fairly recently he referred to as his favorite match.
Being an outstanding forward from Argentina can be both a blessing and a curse. Traditionally, so many good players emerge at the position that the competition is fierce. In 2006, Jose Pekerman opted for Julio Cruz instead of Milito despite having called up Milito to a pre-World Cup friendly and describing him as "the best Argentinian striker playing in Europe."
Alfio Basile summoned him occasionally, but in his prolific career Milito has managed only 20-odd caps and, according to El Grafico, he's rarely been called up for two consecutive Argentina games. Gabriel became an international much earlier, joining Argentina's U-17 World Cup squad in Egypt in 1997 and pretty much remaining a coveted member despite some injury problems.
Now, on the eve of manager Diego Maradona's announcing his preliminary list of 30 players, Diego Milito is hoping to secure that place for which he has yearned. However, it's believed that Maradona has his heart set on Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero as definites at forward, and speculation is rife about the fate of Lisandro Lopez, Pipita Higuain, Martin Palermo and even Ezekial Lavezzi. Milito is in with a chance, but there are other contenders for the final forward spot.
Many in Argentina believe Maradona has no possible argument for excluding Milito. But Maradona is a man whose mind works in mysterious ways. "I refuse to confirm anything [about the Inter players]," he said recently under persistent questioning from the press. "If [Yaya] Toure's goal hadn't been disallowed as a hand ball, we wouldn't be talking about [Javier] Zanetti now, and [Diego] Milito's goal was offside. I agree Inter won, but Barcelona deserved better luck."
There is no shortage of speculation as to Maradona's intentions, but as El Comercio, an Ecuadorian paper put it recently, Diego Milito is on the verge of making history: If he continues his goal scoring and helps Inter win the Champions League at the Bernabeu on May 22, how is Maradona going to be able to say, "Look, you're good. But I'm taking Lavezzi to South Africa"?