Before the first Derby della Lanterna of the season, Sampdoria striker Antonio Cassano teased, "Why shouldn't we be optimistic? We are better than Genoa.” After winning the game 1-0 and leading Genoa to their first victory in the derby since November 2001, Rossoblu striker Diego Milito simply said, "I will remember it forever.”
Almost five months down the line, on May 3, 2009 it was again Milito who led the Grifone to a victory in the derby, this time scoring an emphatic hat-trick to keep alive hopes of a historic Champions League qualification. Genoa failed to achieve qualification to Europe's blue ribbon in the end and had to settle for a Europa League spot, but for a side that was featuring in the Serie B only two seasons ago it was a fairytale.
Between the two derbies, Milito would score goals, goals and lots of goals - 24 goals in Serie A over the course of the season, just one goal short of becoming the Capocannoniere.
Milito joined Genoa from relegated Spanish club Real Zaragoza in the summer of 2008 for his second stint - his first spell had yielded 33 goals in 59 appearances in the Serie B - and started where he left off, banging in goals right away.
Milito's goal against Sampdoria on December 7 was his 12th in 14 Serie A matches, and he was one of only two players into double figures in the league at the time. His first league goal for Genoa had come against AC Milan in the second week of the season, slotting home a 90th minute penalty at the Luigi Ferraris.
As Genoa continued to rise up the table, Milito continued to take the Serie A by storm. His first season in the Italian top flight was turning out to be so emphatic that he was linked with a move to Inter Milan during January. Genoa, though, resisted, and Milito himself expressed reluctance to leave the club and the city he had embraced so dearly to his heart.
Pledge of Allegiance | Milito shows where his heart is
There were some injury concerns for Milito as the season progressed, but the former Zaragoza striker couldn't be shaken off his peremptory form. He scored crucial goals throughout the season, including the equaliser against AC Milan in late January and his perfect hat-trick against Sampdoria in 2008-2009's second Derby della Lanterna.
El Principe proved himself to be the ideal targetman and one of the most clinical finishers in world football. And even after he was confirmed to join Italian champions Inter, the Argentine international couldn't stop scoring, netting twice against Lecce in his final game for Genoa. It was an emotional day for the 30-year-old, who had earlier sent an open letter to all supporters of the club expressing his love for them.
Diego Milito was never really a world beating talent, and despite his goalscoring prowess, will never attain the same status as some of his fellow Argentinians, a fact reflected perhaps in his sparse appearances for the Argentine national team.
But as Cassano admitted, Milito is "one of the best five strikers in the world". The 30-year-old is a natural goalscorer, with equal ability on both feet and a marvellous heading capability, guaranteeing goals for whichever side he plays for.
Although Inter Milan will be by far the biggest club Milito has played for so far in his career, there’s little doubt that El Principe will succeed for the Nerazzurri.
Joint Second Top Scorer In Serie A (24 goals)
Subhankar Mondal, Goal.com