The relationship between Diego Milito and Genoa appeared like a match made in heaven. The Argentinian became one the most prolific goalscorers across Europe in the 2000s. But Il Principe (“The Prince”) took an unexpected journey to the top of Italian football after his formative years in Argentina and a goal-laden spell in Spain.
Despite all his achievements in Italian football, Milito’s craft at Genoa was particularly outstanding.
Milito was a predator inside the area. His play as a big center-forward with an exquisite touch and excellent awareness made him a complete striker.
The Argentinian’s natural goalscoring ability was adored by Genoan fans during his first spell between 2003 and 2005. An incredible return of 34 goals in Serie B, and the devastating downfall of Genoa, led the Argentinian to move on to bigger and brighter things.
Little did Il Grifone know that their star player would soon return in unexpected circumstances for a second crack just three years later.
Milito and Genoa: A Budding Partnership
In 1999, Milito debuted for his local side Racing Club, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During a four-year spell, the Racing fans were besotted with their local superstar. Not just for his goals, but for his graceful style of play and ability to bring others into the game.
Inevitably, Milito’s ability attracted interest from Europe. His ancestors emigrated from Terranova da Sibari, near Cosenza, Italy appeared as a suitable destination for Milito.
However, Serie A was perhaps a step too far for the budding striker at this stage. Instead, he choose to develop his abilities in Serie B with Genoa. Milito and Genoa paired up in January 2004. The striker transferred for an estimated £8 million and the 24-year-old had plenty to prove to justify the high price tag.
Despite scoring on his debut in a 1-1 draw against Ascoli, Milito made a slow start. The Argentinian scored just three goals in his first 15 appearances, although the inconsistency didn’t last.
In his final seven games of the 2003/04 season, Milito showed his true potential. The striker fired nine goals in seven matches, including a hat-trick in a 4-2 win over Cagliari.
With momentum behind him, Milito continued his purple patch into the following season. Ten goals in 13 matches convinced the Genoan faithful that the towering Argentine striker was a worthy signing. Milito continued to hit the net with regularity and finished as Serie B’s second-top goalscorer with 21 goals. Ultimately, the contributions power charged Genoa’s promotion campaign.
The form was crucial in helping Genoa win promotion back to Serie A for the first time since 1995. And the expectation of playing in Italy’s top-flight was tantalizing for Il Grifone and Milito. But off-field events soon shattered the dreams of the Rossoblù.
In the post-season, the Italian League’s Disciplinary Commission discovered Genoa had made match-fixing payments to Venezia, which led to a 3-2 victory for Il Grifone in the final Serie B match of the season. The result was crucial in confirming Genoa’s title win and promotion.
As punishment, Genoa were relegated to Serie C1 and handed a 250,000 euro fine. The news meant the club had to sell its key players, including a devastated Milito. His outstanding two-year spell and love affair with the Rossoblù ended in heartbreak.
Eyes from La Liga were now on Milito, who had proven himself a worthy goalscorer in Europe. However, personal links with Real Zaragoza were a key selling point for Milito. His brother, Gabriel Milito left Argentina in 2003 to join the Spanish club and the influence proved a decisive factor in convincing Diego to join.
Milito continued his meteoric rise. As he did in Genoa previously, the star striker won over the Zaragoza fans with goals, classy technique and a hard-working attitude. Three goals in his first five games also left little doubt that Milito was the man to lead from the front and replace the outgoing David Villa.
Across three seasons, Milito scored 59 goals in 127 appearances in all competitions. The consistency showed that the Argentinian was a capable goalscorer at the highest level in European football. His maturity and dedication were also rewarded with the club captaincy in the 2006/07 season. Milito also signed a new contract with a reported 100 million euro release clause.
Yet, much like his time with Genoa, Milito’s stint in Spain ended in despair. A poor 2007/08 season saw Zaragoza fall into a relegation battle and a final day of the season loss to Mallorca led to the club’s demotion to the second division.
The club faced financial pressures and had to sell the best players. Yet again, Milito had another career-changing decision to make.
Milito and Genoa: One Last Dance
As Milito was toying with defenses in La Liga, Genoa were clawing their way back to the top of Italian football. Back-to-back promotions helped Il Grifone finally reach Serie A ahead for the 2007/08 season and the club finished in a respectable 10th place.
But, manager Gian Piero Gasperini knew the club needed a clinical striker to lead them to true top-flight success.
Milito was top of the list and the Argentinian was linked with Genoa throughout the summer transfer window. It was a move that Milito had on his mind. At the time, the striker explained, “I’d like to return to Genoa. It would be beautiful, although I don’t know if that possibility exists.”
As Genoa pursued their former golden boy, interest from the Premier League also appealed. Tottenham Hotspur were a team on the rise in European football and reportedly eager to land Milito. Everton also monitored the situation.
However, Milito’s “beautiful” return to Liguria became a reality on the final transfer window day as he signed on loan from Zaragoza for a second spell, with just a few minutes remaining before the deadline passed.
The experience of top-level football in La Liga supercharged Milito’s goalscoring prowess. Incredibly, the all-around center forward was more prolific during his second Genoan stint as he smashed in four goals in his first three appearances – three of which came against Milan and Roma.
Consistency was no issue for Milito and his football ability and intelligence had grown compared to his first spell. The striker netted 24 goals in 31 Serie A appearances but also added six assists to his final tally.
It was a sensational return for Milito. His goals helped Genoa, a club extremely close to his heart, reach 5th in Serie A for the 2008/09 season; it was their highest top-flight finish since 1991.
Il Principe – Destined for Greatness
One last season of greatness was Milito’s parting gift for Genoa. In May 2009, Genoa and Inter struck a deal to send Milito to Milan for the 2009/10 season.
It was a move that benefitted Milito hugely and he won the Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League treble in his first campaign under Jose Mourinho. Milito’s goals were also crucial as he scored 30 goals in all competitions for the Nerazzurri.
Another prolific season of 26 goals followed in the 2010/11 season before Milito’s consistency and form started to decline in subsequent campaigns. The towering Argentinian returned to play out his twilight years back at Racing Club before retiring in 2016.
When he walked out onto a roaring Estadio Presidente Perón in his final professional appearance, Milito remained humble to his first opportunity at Genoa. Addressing the adoring crowds, he said, “I thank all the clubs I have played with. Genoa brought me to Europe, introducing me to great football and the fans have always treated me very well.”