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Milito: “Happy Birthday Inter Milan, your fans will have a place in my heart forever”

Oh the feels.

Bayern Muenchen v Inter Milan - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Gazzetta dello Sport, 9 March 2018, p. 13.

To mark the 110th anniversary of Inter’s foundation, Gazzetta dello Sport sat down with Triplete legend Diego Milito on Thursday to collect his birthday wishes and pick his brain on several other topics relating to the Nerazzurri and Italian football in general - Champions League qualification, this weekend’s big match with Napoli, the fight for the Scudetto and a lowdown on summer signing Lautaro Martinez.

And, of course, Davide Astori.

Whenever you hear this man’s voice your heart cannot help but begin to melt instantaneously - such is the indelible nature of all the memories he has left us with - but even when you’re only reading his words on paper the emotional impact is pretty much the same.

Happy Anniversary, Principe. Manchi.

Diego Milito is the symbol of Inter’s recent history, who today celebrate 110 years since the club’s founding. The only reason Principe hasn’t gone straight into the Nerazzurri’s Hall of Fame is because he stopped playing too recently to be eligible. Diego remains the iconic figure of the Triplete in 2010 and to him the Inter shirt is like a second skin.

That said, with great sportsmanship he explained how he never wishes ‘bad things upon an opponent, and therefore I wouldn’t have a problem with Juventus winning the treble like we did. We’d still be the first Italian team to have done it.’

Milito, let’s start with a few words for Davide Astori, whose funeral took place in Florence yesterday.

“An absurd story that leaves me speechless. I played against Davide on many occasions; my most heartfelt condolences go out to his family.”

Bayern Muenchen v Inter Milan - UEFA Champions League Final
I’m not crying, you are.
Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

You’re part of the Inter family that celebrates its 110th birthday today.

“Auguri! I have these colours inside me now. Along with my teammates I made history at Inter and lived out the dreams of any footballer.

“I still have a lot of friends in Milan and I’m honoured to be a part of this club. I know that I have a place in the fans’ hearts and they will always have a place in mine.”

The baton up front has now been passed onto Mauro Icardi. Will he be the man who gets Inter back into the Champions League?

“I really hope so. Mauro has done a lot for this team and with his goals I’m certain we’ll return to the Champions League.”

If they didn’t manage it then next season would be Inter’s seventh season in a row without being in Europe’s most important club competition.

“I don’t even want to think about it. Getting back into the Champions League is too important, for the period Inter are going through it would be like winning the Scudetto.”

Despite a new head coach the team started the season brilliantly before falling away. How do you explain these things that happen at Inter?

“I don’t think there’s much point asking too many questions. The important thing is to double up your effort and understand that results come out of the work you do in training. I have a lot of confidence in the team, Spalletti and the club.”

Your Triplete squad was another very diverse group of people and yet you had a fantastic bond between you. Do you think this team is lacking a sense of belonging?

“I don’t think so. I’m sure these guys know what to do and they’ll do it. The bottom line is that they’re still up there in the table after a great first half of the season. Perhaps it was too great.”

Chelsea v Inter Milan - UEFA Champions League
Let’s hope this isn’t a good omen for Juventus’s current Champions League campaign...
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Which rival do Inter need to focus on in the top four race?

“Despite Milan and Samp’s good runs of form it’s going to be a battle with the two capital clubs. With us holding the advantage of not being in Europe. It’s true that they can give you enthusiasm but they also drain a lot of your energy.”

Juventus and Napoli on the other hand are off limits?

“Yes, the numbers speak for themselves, and not only those. They’re two very different teams but they’re both extremely strong. I think the Scudetto will be decided by the head-to-head in April.”

Juventus have just won the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie in London. Exactly like you with Chelsea in 2010. As an Interista would you be able to wish the Triplete on them?

“I support Inter and Genoa but that doesn’t mean I want the others to suffer. If the problem is losing the exclusivity of having won the Triplete then we would still have been the first to do so.”

Higuain didn’t touch the ball a lot against Tottenham but he decided the tie with a goal and an assist...

“Gonzalo is one of the best strikers in the world. I played with him for the national team and I know full well that he can always make the difference.”

Racing Club v Huracan - Superliga 2017/18
Diego Milito knows Lautaro Martinez better than anyone else, and he’s a fan.
Photo by Demian Alday/Getty Images

Another Argentinian striker who’s scoring constantly at the moment is Lautaro Martinez, Racing’s 20 year-old star who has already been promised to Inter.

“He’s fantastic. He’s still young but he already has a winning mentality and a professionalism that enables him to be decisive. He has an incredible physique, he’s good in the air, he knows how to protect the ball and he’s very complete technically. Sampaoli has a nice problem on his hands trying to choose between all these strikers ahead of the World Cup.”

One nation who won’t be in Russia this summer is Italy.

“As a half-Italian I’m still struggling to believe it. The footballing movement needs to ask itself some questions about the moment it’s experiencing, but this national team still had more than enough to qualify. A World Cup without Italy isn’t the same thing.”

Who will triumph in Russia?

“My heart says Argentina, but Brazil, Germany, Spain and France are all great teams too.”

Let’s go back to Inter. How useful will Rafinha be to this team after arriving in January?

“Inter need everybody’s contribution but for sure he’s brilliant technically. He’ll be a big helping hand.”

Was the postponement of the derby a good thing considering Milan were in great form, or could it have been the ideal game to help turn Inter’s season around?

“It’s impossible to say. For sure the derby is a game that’s different to all the others, and at this point it will be played in an even more important moment of the season.”

FC Internazionale Milano v SSC Napoli - Serie A
Diego Milito only ever scored twice against Napoli an Inter shirt. Both goals contributed to victories though...
Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images

To be fair Inter’s next opponent doesn’t mess about either...

“Napoli will be fired up after the defeat against Roma. I expect it to be a great game that’s open to any result.”

Give us a prediction.

“Obviously I’m cheering for Inter so that they can get going again. Although an Inter win would be tinged with a little regret as it would further distance Napoli from the Scudetto. For the way they play they’d deserve to win it.”

You only ever scored two goals for Inter against Napoli, one of which came in the incredible 2009-10 season.

“True, but I think that’s a coincidence more than anything else. Having said that I fared much better whenever I played against Milan...”

Having offered Inter his birthday wishes during the interview, Diego then took to Instagram on Friday morning to reiterate them.

“The years pass by but my love for these colours does not. Happy Birthday Inter!”

I feel emotional.