The last days of a football career are undoubtedly a paradoxical time. At 35 years of age, a highly productive age for any other profession, a footballer is practically a pensioner. There are very few players who can stand among the most competitive leagues at that age.
Most, knowing that the good days have passed, choose, not without reason, those “elephant graveyards” that are peripheral leagues in world football. Places like Australia, Malaysia, China, South Korea and, to a lesser extent, the United States and Japan offer to the players the opportunity to keep shining on the pitch and fatten the bank account.
However, there are cases such as Diego Milito who break this scheme, the former Inter Milan striker who returned last year to Argentina to wear the colors of his beloved Racing Club.
With the help of Milito, “La Academia” won the title for the first time in 13 years. The arrival of the “Principito” was fundamental to changing the dynamic of a team that, despite having a good squad, never could establish itself as a serious contender for the title.
The contribution of the ex-Inter striker included his presence meant the arrival of a strong leader to the locker room of Racing Club, someone able to absorb and deflect the pressure from his teammates.
For years, playing there was a “pain in the ass” for football players. Racing, a special club in many ways, has suffered throughout its history from numerous calamities – the bad results that doomed the team to play in the second tier of Argentine football in the early 1980s, the economic problems that almost led to the disappearance of the club in mid-90s, and the sports ostracism of the last 50 years (in which Racing could only win the Torneo Apertura 2001 and the Supercopa 1988) were combined to shape the most emotional fan of Argentine football.
The other side of the “madness” that surrounds the fans of Racing Club is the excessive pressure that they exercise over the team. In previous years, the lack of a leader able to keep cold mind and a warm heart meant that Racing were unable to aspire to something more than a runner.
Last year, the arrival of Milito was the key to appeasing the fans who saw him as a source of tranquility. So, this calmness amongst fans moved to the playing field, where his teammates were able to gradually deploy a better quality of play.
There are few football players who have the ability to empower their teammates, making them play above their abilities. Milito is one of them. The clearest example of this is Gustavo Bou, his strike partner who arrived at Racing wrapped in a sea of doubt.
His poor performances in Gimnasia Y Esgrima de La Plata the previous season and an erratic career did not make for a very encouraging background.
Surprisingly though, Bou became the ideal partner for Diego and, contradicting all the odds, he became the top scorer of the team. Currently Bou is a key player for Racing; with six goals in two matches, he is the top scorer in the Copa Libertadores and is now being seen as a future national team player.
The partnership with Milito can be decisive for the career of Bou, who went from being an almost unknown to become the striker of the moment in the Argentine football.
Milito, aware that his age weighs on his legs, has started to turn provider, taking advantage of the speed of Bou and his own intelligence to read the game.
The veteran is reaching his last moments as football player and he knows it very well. The fact that the striker prioritises only playing in the Copa Libertadores matches over the local tournament is a sign that he is aware of the limitations of his body.
But these limitations, typical of age, do not prevent Milito remaining as one of the most exquisite players to ever walk the fields of Argentine football.