Milito: You can always improve
Diego Milito is not about to forget 2010 in a hurry. The Inter Milan striker had a big hand in the five trophies won by the Italian giants in a memorable 12 months, contributing no fewer than 30 goals as Jose Mourinho steered them to a UEFA Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia treble. Though disappointment would follow with Argentina at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the 31-year-old was back on the trophy trail in the second half of the year as I Nerazzurri collected the Supercoppa Italiana and the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010.
Milito’s contribution to Inter’s third European crown cannot be underestimated. It was his late strike in a crucial group match at Dinamo Kiev that ultimately allowed the Italians to take their place in the knockout phase, where he then hit further vital goals as Chelsea, CSKA Moscow and the mighty Barcelona were dispatched en route to the final. Saving the best for last, the former Racing, Genoa and Zaragoza man scored twice as Inter overcame Bayern Munich 2-0 in the Madrid showpiece.
Nicknamed 'El Príncipe de Bernal' (The Prince of Bernal, his hometown), Milito is a classic centre-forward. The sharpest of finishers, he is also the archetypal team player, working tirelessly to create openings for himself and his colleagues.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Milito talked at length about his annus mirabilis, his recent battles against injury, his long fight to reach the top and the players who have inspired him to keep on scoring.
FIFA.com: Diego, what better way for Inter to cap a truly historic year than by beating TP Mazembe in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup last December?
Diego Milito: Yes, the Club World Cup was one of the main objectives of the season and we’re delighted to have won it in deserved fashion. It’s a very important competition in its own right, but it also added even more lustre to the trophies we’d already won. It’s a tournament that’s highly regarded in South America and teams spend a lot of time preparing for it. In fact, when I went home for Christmas I saw for myself how much my compatriots had been celebrating my success. It’s not quite so important in Europe, though, because it comes midway through the season. Even so, I think the last Club World Cup showed once and for all that standards have levelled out a lot around the world and that you have to watch out for every team now, no matter which continent they’re from. That’s why we’re so proud to be wearing the FIFA Club World Champion badge on the Nerazurra shirt, and why we’ll be doing what we can to win the title again this year.
You’ve had injury problems of late. Is that just one of those things or are you paying the price of all the effort you’ve been putting in?
It’s just part of being a footballer, I think. Even though I wasn’t in perfect shape, I was delighted I recovered in time for the Club World Cup. The goal I scored against Seongnam really made up for all the sacrifices I’d made. I’ve been out since then with another, unrelated injury but I’m ready now for the second half of the season, when the games will be coming thick and fast. I’ve had a lot of support from the club and the fans during that time and I’m extremely grateful to them all.
Of all the goals you scored last year, which do you look back on with most satisfaction?
Every goal has a special place in my heart. Obviously some are more important for the team than others, like goals that win cups and championships. One that I like to think back on is the goal I scored in the 1-0 victory over Siena. It was a very tense, tight game and that win secured the league for us. There’s also the goal I got in the final of the Coppa Italia in Rome, and the brace I scored in the Champions League final in Madrid.
How did it feel to be 2-0 up in the UEFA Champions League final and look up and see yours as the only name on the scoreboard? And which of the two goals was harder to score from a technical viewpoint?
They were both difficult and very different to each other. I think the second brought it home to us that we’d won the cup, or as good as won it. That’s why I felt a sense of release when I was celebrating it. It felt so amazing to be so close to the title, and it was a feeling I’ll never forget. Every time I look back on that final I realise just how much I enjoyed it from start to finish. And that’s just the way it should be.
You were nearly 30 when you joined Inter in 2009, having played for less fashionable clubs prior to that. Did you ever lose hope of enjoying the kind of success you had last year?
No, not at all. The big thing you learn is that you have to keep on believing you can improve your game. You have to keep working day in, day out on the objectives you set yourself. That said, it’s not easy to stand out from the crowd because there are an awful lot of obstacles that can come into play along the way. I know a lot of really good players who didn’t make it, sometimes through no fault of their own. I’m very happy to have played for the teams I’ve represented in my career, and I think they’ve helped me grow as a player. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than working for the team, let me tell you that.
It was at one for those clubs, Genoa, that you began to make your name.
Yes, I was very happy at Genoa and I had a fantastic relationship with the fans. I’ll always be grateful because they were the first European team to believe in me, the first to bring me over from Argentina and give me a chance in Italy. My first spell with the club came between 2004 and 2005 and lasted a year and a half. When I rejoined I Rossoblu in 2008 I just picked up where I left off and the love affair started all over again. I had three years in between in Spain with Real Zaragoza, and I think I made a good impression there too.
Which forwards from the past have inspired you?
My boyhood idol was always Enzo Francescoli, but in the last few years I’ve learned a lot from watching Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo, two fantastic Argentinian centre-forwards who both made it big in Italy. Crespo’s still scoring goals in fact. He’s amazingly professional in what he does.