‘El Toro’ Lautaro leads Inter Milan’s bull run

When Lautaro Martinez arrived at the famous Racing Club in Avellaneda, a port city in the Buenos Aires province, he was a homesick teenager. He missed his family back in Bahia Blanca, where he had grown up next to the Villa Mitre stadium, and wanted to return home. 

But his determination to succeed was evident even back then — Racing’s psychologist Cecilia Contarino found that young Lautaro performed exceptionally well in the psychological evaluation, topping the football club’s entire roster in the concentration tests. 

Uncommon ability

“Usually boys start well and then drop off or vice versa but Lautaro maintained his concentration perfectly,” Contarino told Spanish news outlet Mundo Deportivo. “I asked him things and he replied as if nothing disturbed him. He got 98 out of 100. The normal score is between 50 and 70. Over time I got to know Lautaro… He is a brilliant boy. He is orderly, intelligent and professional.”

These traits are in evidence all these years later in a different continent, with the “brilliant boy” finding a second home in Milan and lighting up the black-and-blue section of the global city. Since moving to Internazionale, Lautaro has been one of the world’s leading forwards: he has scored at least 20 goals in four of his six seasons at the club (all competitions), with 19 in another.

Lautaro has been especially lethal since winning the World Cup with Argentina in December 2022. This season, the 26-year-old has already scored 18 goals in 18 Serie A appearances, leading the Capocannoniere race by a large distance; the next best is Olivier Giroud’s 10.

Lautaro’s goal-rich form and talent for associative attacking play have powered Inter to the top of Serie A in 2023-24. He scored a brace in the convincing 5-1 win at neighbouring Monza in last weekend’s fixture, ensuring the Nerazzurri stayed well clear of second-placed Juventus. 

That family feeling: While many of Europe’s giants covet Lautaro, the Argentinian appears to have found a second home in the black-and-blue section of Milan. | Photo credit: Getty Images

Inter is the favourite at the season’s half-way mark to reclaim a league crown last won in 2021 which many fans believe should have been retained in 2022 when it took AC Milan to the final day of the season. After that battle of Italy’s economic capital and Napoli’s heartwarming triumph in 2023, Inter is currently challenged by Juventus, traditionally its fiercest rival. 

And Inter cannot have a better man leading its charge — both club captain and primary offensive weapon, Lautaro has given it his all. In an era of non-stop football, availability is a prized asset, and only a few attacking players have been as available in recent times as Lautaro. When he missed December’s league clash against Lecce with a thigh strain, it ended an 89-game streak.

The complete striker

This physical robustness is a part of the reason why he is nicknamed ‘El Toro’ (The Bull). The 5’8” Lautaro is a powerful, low-to-the-ground athlete, who is tough to shake off the ball. His movement in the box, especially on the blindside of defenders, his agility, which helps him out of tight corners, and his intelligence make him a menace to deal with. Add his work-rate off the ball and his sheer force of will, and you can see why he is so highly rated.

Lionel Messi clearly liked what he saw from his Argentina teammate. “He’s an impressive striker, he’s really complete,” said Messi, widely considered one of football’s best ever. “He’s strong, he’s a good dribbler, he scores goals, he knows how to protect the ball. He has a lot of similarities with Luis [Suarez], they both use their bodies well and hold the ball up.”  

At Inter, Lautaro has a rich lineage of goal-scorers to live up to: the likes of Ronaldo, Christian Vieri, Hernan Crespo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o have all worn the black-and-blue. His numbers thus far compare well with many of his predecessors. According to Sky Sport Italia, Lautaro’s percentage of games with at least one goal (40%) ranks alongside Vieri (55%), Ibrahimovic (50%), Mauro Icardi (43%), Eto’o (39%), Milito (38%) and Crespo (29%).

Lautaro’s finishing has gone up a level this season. Against Salernitana, he came off the bench to score four goals in 27 minutes, with three different types of first-time finishes — a dink over the keeper, a drilled shot, a controlled left-footer — and a penalty.

But Lautaro is no lone-wolf No. 9. While he can lead the line when needed, his super power is combining play with other strikers to facilitate diverse two-at-the-top systems. 

With Edin Dzeko and Romelu Lukaku, he forged partnerships by adapting to their respective strengths. “Edin likes having the ball, he drops back and links with his team-mates, while Romelu tends to attack spaces and has defenders follow him to create space for the second striker,” Lautaro said. “I try to adapt to them. If I need to attack spaces to free up space for Edin, I can do it easily, and the [reverse] applies for Romelu.”

Two-headed monster: Lautaro and Marcus Thuram (left) have taken over from Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia as Serie A’s most dangerous strike pairing. | Photo credit: Getty Images

Two-headed monster: Lautaro and Marcus Thuram (left) have taken over from Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia as Serie A’s most dangerous strike pairing. | Photo credit: Getty Images

This season, Lautaro found immediate chemistry with Marcus Thuram, who arrived from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer. Lautaro and Thuram, with a combined 35 goal involvements, have taken over from Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia as Serie A’s most dangerous strike pairing. 

Unique profile

This mix of ruthlessness and selflessness makes Lautaro such a unique talent profile. So, it’s no surprise that Inter is reportedly ready to break its wage structure to lock down its talisman with a lucrative long-term contract. He is already one of Inter’s highest-paid players, earning around 6.5 million euros a season, but his current deal expires in 2026 and the club is reportedly set to increase his salary to 10 million euros.

While many of Europe’s giants covet, or have coveted, Lautaro — Real Madrid and Barcelona made significant steps at different points in time — the 26-year-old appears in love with Inter.

“From the day I arrived at this club they made me feel like part of the family, as if I had grown up here, and that is very important for any player,” he said. “It’s a nice responsibility to carry this flag. I am very proud of what I am achieving here and have to keep striving for more.”

In Lautaro’s sights are a second Scudetto, an improvement on last season’s runner-up finish in the Champions League and the Serie A goal-scoring record (36, jointly held by Gonzalo Higuain and Ciro Immobile). “My aim is to go up a level every year,” he said, “I like to score a lot but the important thing is that Inter wins. We have been bringing trophies to this great club and we’ve got to continue this way. I want to keep contributing for Inter, because that’s what matters.”

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