Internazionale can bring a dry spell to an end in Friday’s Europa League final against Sevilla. The Italian club’s last title was the domestic cup in 2011, and the year before they scooped the pool, winning the European and world titles.
The attacking spearhead of that side was Diego Milito, a centre-forward from Argentina. A decade later, once again they have an Argentine up top, and there is one striking similarity between Milito and the current No. 10, Lautaro Martinez. Both came up the ranks with Argentine giants Racing. Indeed, after leaving Inter, Milito went home to round off his career with Racing, and he is currently the club’s director of football.
But if they both started in light blue and white stripes before switching to black and blue, there are probably more differences than similarities between Milito and Martinez.
Milito was 30 by the time he made his way to Milan and, while he had enjoyed a thoroughly respectable club career in Argentina, Spain and Italy, he was not seen as a world beater. There was an element of surprise when he became such a key member of Jose Mourinho’s all conquering side in 2010. With the Argentine national team he was always viewed as an inadequate replacement for Hernan Crespo and Gonzalo Higuain — Milito managed to score just four goals for his country.
Martinez, on the other hand, turns 23 on Saturday. He has yet to acquire some of the game smarts of the mature Milito — the economy of effort and the simplification of his options — but he carries himself with the swagger of a striker entitled to believe that he is destined for greatness. Milito’s gait could come across as almost apologetic at times. Martinez, conversely, glides across the field with the menace of a hammerhead shark and he has also already helped himself to nine goals for his country, acquired in just 17 international appearances. Milito’s four came in 25 games.
Even an Albiceleste idol like Carlos Tevez could only score 13 in an Argentina career that spanned over a decade. Martinez, then, is well on the way to establishing himself as the true successor to Gabriel Batistuta, to Crespo and to Higuain. While great things were rarely expected from Milito, he came up with them during his time at Inter. Great things are certainly expected of Martinez, wherever he ends up playing his football.
But, after Friday’s final, where might that be? A proven goalscorer — he has 21 in 48 games for Inter this season — who is still in his early 20s, Martinez is obviously one of the hottest properties in the game. Barcelona have made no secret of their admiration, and there has been speculation for months that they will be taking him to Catalonia.
But can they afford him? And, perhaps an even more pertinent question after the events of the last few days, would he want to go?
“The team showed that it is ready for big things, it has a lot of personality and it’s getting better day by day.”
Antonio Conte’s three centre-back system allows Inter to have width high up the field, plus a pair of strikers who work well together. The Lu-La combination of Martinez and Romelu Lukaku pose a physical, tactical and technical threat to the opposing defence. One of the highlights of the final will surely be the battle between them and the Sevilla centre-back partnership of Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos.
Getting past that duo — and keeper Bono, so impressive against Manchester United — is the short term target for Martinez. Beyond Friday’s game, there are plenty of other challenges that Inter can offer their young striker; taking advantage of Juventus‘ period of transition to win the Italian title, carrying this season’s Europa League form into next season’s Champions League and continuing his development to become one of the world’s top centre-forwards.
Martinez is well down the road from turning promise into reality. Inter Milan must surely feel that he can complete the journey in black and blue stripes.
After all, Milito conquered the world with Inter. Perhaps Martinez can do the same thing?