Inter returns to a Champions League final after 13 years, during which time the club's international aspirations and prominence were not the best. This time, as in 2010, he dreams again of European glory, with the game of coincidences looming to invite his fans to dream. And it is that on both occasions, the Argentine romance with the Milanese team appears in the center of action. Lautaro Martínez and Diego Milito. Only one aspect differentiates them: one won the 'Orejona' and the other wants it. El Toro seeks to repeat the feat of the Prince to put on the crown and take his team back to the top.
The similarities open the doors of illusion in Italian lands. On that May 22, 2010, a Milito scorer and referent had a dream match by scoring a double against Bayern Munich in order to stay with the third Champions League in the history of Inter. At that time, Lautaro Martínez was a teenager who was starting high school and saw one of his idols leave their mark on the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, venue of that final.
Today, Inter dreams again of the hand of that young man who became his captain and figure. The possible heir to a story that Neroazzurri fans want to be written again, although this time in Istanbul and against Manchester City.
Lautaro was already the hero of the semifinals in the Derby della Madonnina against Milan, scoring a goal in the rematch of the series. Ten years ago, Milito also did it with the bonus of providing two assists against Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, before consecrating himself in the final duel. Inter fans have something to hold on to being back in the most important event in European football thanks to an Argentine striker.
Milito in the celebrations after becoming champion of the Champions League. Photo: EFE/Matteo Bazzi
Lautaro Martínez is going through the best moment of his career. He scored 28 goals and provided 11 assists this season. Even the possible conquest of the Champions League could position him in the search for some individual recognition, as happened with Milito when he received the UEFA Player of the Year award in 2010.
This is how two of the latest promises to emerge from the Tita Mattiussi property in Avellaneda seem to be marked by intertwined careers. The vocation for the goal unites them. However, their first steps through the lower ones and the contexts of their premieres as professionals present both differences and similarities.
Surprisingly, both were close to abandoning their possibility of debuting with the Racing jersey. From Bernal, Quilmes, Milito landed at the club with 10 years in 1989 and had to endure not being taken into account in some seasons. And as strange as it may seem, he came to be free.
When he had to go from Eighth to Ninth was when he was free for football things. I was working at another club and when I return to Racing I find out that Diego was not there. I knew I was going to have a future. His dad told me that he didn't want to play anymore, that he was going to dedicate himself to studying, but I convinced him to come back," confessed Miguel Gomis, talent detector in Racing since 2016, with a previous step from 1979 to 2008, in exclusive dialogue with Clarín.
The lower ones were an irregular stage for Milito, reaching up to two years in the Third. He had to wait longer than usual to accomplish his goal. However, later he would become a key piece of the champion Reserve in 1999, the same year in which he would make his professional debut under the institutional context that Racing was going through on the verge of bankruptcy, which led to build a squad with several youth as a base.
Milito in what were his first goal celebrations with the Racing shirt. Photo: Archive.
On the other hand, the boy from Bahía Blanca, signed from the Liniers club, arrived in 2014 with 16 years to the youth categories as a promise. Although he suffered on several occasions the fact of living in the pension and being away from his family, Martínez quickly ratified his conditions by scoring 26 goals in 26 games with the Sexta.
"Like every boy from the interior he had his time to adapt, but he immediately got used to the rhythm of AFA football and earned a place. He made a fantastic duo with Brian Mansilla (currently in Orenburg in Russia) and between the two they ended up breaking nets in all the premises of Argentine football, "said Ramón Medina, current general coordinator of children's football in Racing, to Clarín.
"He was a more armed boy, stronger physically because he had the friction of coming from tougher tournaments like those in the interior. Typical striker who painted as a born scorer from the beginning. He was sick of the goal," Gomis emphasized.
Therefore, in 2015, with a Racing commanded by Diego Cocca and recent champion of the local tournament, it would be time for the debut of the boy who surprised locals and strangers in the Predio Tita.
Lautaro Martinez celebrating his goal that defined the series against Milan and allowed the passage to the Champions League final. Photo: ANSA / MATTEO BAZZI
And the coincidences between Lautaro and Milito seem not to be random. It is scarce to simply compare the fact that both were forwards emerged from the lower Racing, where they came to share a team. It is that in a "casual" way, but with a wink of fate, in 2015 was when the Prince made the "succession": on October 31, Milito, with a partial 3-0 in favor of Racing against Crucero del Norte, left the field of the Cylinder of Avellaneda to be replaced by Lautaro Martínez, a 17-year-old boy who was playing his first game as a professional, and that years later he would end up stomping on the path that his idol traced. But not only at Inter, but also with the Academy shirt.
When Milito retired, he told me it was my time," Lautaro confessed years ago. And he fulfilled perfectly.
Milito being replaced by Lautaro. Photo: Racingmaníacos.
The European destiny that both ended up obtaining was not so clear from the beginning for Milito. At the beginning of his career at age 20, with Gustavo Costas as coach, the goal was denied to that youth who would end up reversing his streak by leaving champion and figure of the Apertura 2001 thanks to the hand of Reinaldo Mostaza Merlo, the coach who bet on him.
On the other hand, the 'Bull' lived up to his nickname immediately. A fast and vertical player, who despite not lifting any title, quickly reached 27 goals with the Racing shirt, ten less than those his former teammate scored in his first stage with the Academy. In Europe they quickly identified it. Both left their mark on the hearts of the fans, but each with their own style. Yes, their football skills differ.
They are two different players. Diego resembled Enzo Francescoli. I had things about him when he was taking his first steps. His tackles, some movements, even the same physique: tall and skinny, "confessed Ramón Medina, who has worked at the Academy since 1994, to describe the style of play that characterized the Prince.
And Gomis agreed: "Diego was very smart to play. It had to be interpreted well, but over time it was adding things that improved it much more. In the beginning he was not that typical born goalscorer who is always in the area."
Europe would be the destination that allowed Milito to make a leap of quality in his game, the one that helped him improve his scoring nose. "It boosted it (Europe). There he began to grow, to get better physically and to get in touch with the best players in the world, "added Medina from the deal he had with the Prince when he took his first steps.
The road through the Old Continent should have had stops prior to Inter for Milito, unlike Lautaro: Genoa in Italy and Zaragoza in Spain, in which he became a reference and allowed him to improve his game. By scoring a total of 121 goals in 223 games between his time with both teams (average of 0.5), the arrival to the Neroazzurri team in 2010 was a fact. His stay there lasted four years and was marked by fire in the heart of Inter's tifosi for that double against Bayern Munich, despite the remaining 73 goals he converted.
Milito celebrating one of his two goals against Bayern Munich. Photo: AFP PHOTO / PEDRO ARMESTRE
The fans would not know that four seasons after the departure of that striker who had given them so much joy, another would arrive with a different style, based on passion, which would become his number "10" and the leading captain of a new Neroazzurra illusion.
Lautaro is different from Diego (Milito). He is a more powerful and stronger player. It has an air of Batistuta. Milito also banked what he had, but perhaps he was much more skilled. Their only similarities are that they knew how to shine in the same clubs," Medina explained.
Likewise, the arrival in Europe also served the world champion striker to progress in other aspects of his game. "Today he improved in the associated game, he goes down a little more. He became a much more complete player for the team," Gomis said.
But despite their differences in styles, the Inter shirt was worn by similar trends. Scoring goals against Milan, having good performances in important matches and a good connection with his attacking duo to help him in the offensive phase was common currency in each one. Both Milito and Lautaro had as fellow referents in theirs: Samuel Eto'o and Mario Balotelli, first, plus Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko, at present.
Lautaro and Lukaku, a fearsome duo that understand each other perfectly. Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP.
Those two goals at the Santiago Bernabeu meant one of the last great performances of Milito with the Inter shirt, following subsequent injuries that sidelined him from the fields. However, this time the Milanese enjoy the fullness of their new Argentine love, of their world champion captain, heir to Diego Neroazurro.
Despite reaching the mark of 102 goals, Lautaro Martinez is one step away from being the new 'Prince' of Milan. And he knows it. "That's my dream (the Champions League) now, it's the most important trophy after the World Cup," El Toro confessed to Milito in an interview they had in the run-up to the semifinals with Milan.
And his former partner, in a fraternal way, showed him that he wants to give him the crown by replying: "I'm pushing you. Lift the Champions League."
The heir smiled at the request. He recognizes his new obsession. He knows that he is in the final stretch of the path traced by Diego Milito. Taking the Orejona to the Cathedral of Milan is the last great step to repeat the deed of the Prince. Istanbul will say if it manages to complete it.