Mauro Icardi and Inter Milan: A breakdown in communication or a one-sided love story?
In recent football seasons, strikers are becoming very underrated. This is understandable because you now have goals coming from all positions except the men in between the sticks. With the advent of 20 goals a season wingers, midfielders chipping in with double figures in goals and center backs like Sergio Ramos with 6 league goals already this season, the over-reliance on out and out center forwards feels a bit old school like. With more and more managers, like Klopp and Sarri opting for the smarter play of the False 9 over the more bullish penalty box heroes, a striker who isn’t adding more and evolving his game may find himself at the bottom of the food chain and may find game time limited.
However, in Italian football, because of the styles of play, the conventional number 9 is still very much in play. Being big, bullish, an ability to hold up play, win headers and being in the right place at the right time are all qualities you find in a typical striker in the Serie A. Strikers like Mandzukic, Zapata, Felipe Caicedo, Ciofani, Cutrone, Piatek, Inglese, Quagliarella, to name a few are strikers who look like they are built for the Serie A and are all excelling one way or another currently. Icardi though not exempted from this A list of Calcio strikers has more about his game than most of these strikers and has seemingly continued to evolve his game over the last couple of seasons.
Not lacking pace, technically very adept from any position in the final third and a positional sense like that of former Internazionale striker, Samuel Eto’o, he’s added holding up play to his game to basically take him to that all-round striker table. Inter Milan offered him the platform and he has ripped the handoff, all while consistently dragging Inter Milan almost by himself most times. However, his legacy in Inter is about to go from the man who brought back Champions league football to that of just a passerby hated by the Curva Nord.
Mauro Emanuel Icardi, who has slyly become synonymous with Inter Milan, began his professional football career in the La Masia academy in Barcelona. Being forced to move out of Argentina by the economic crisis in 2001, Icardi and his family emigrated to Spain and settled in the Canary Islands. Before moving to La Masia, he was at the Union Deportivo Vecindario where he was scouted and signed by Barcelona at 15 years. However, all did not go as planned for Mauro and sometimes, dreams don’t come through. In his words,
“Barcelona’s game was very different to my characteristics and we opted for a change to Italian football which is the one that suits me best.”
Icardi in the La Masia academy wasn’t all bad. He had pace to burn, which always helps a striker, however, there’s a level of intelligence and application required of graduates of the La Masia which weren’t in Icardi,s game and as I said earlier, this was an era where number 9s were being faced out of modern football especially in Spain. The 9 and a half was the new order. His former agent, Abian Morano speaking, said:
“The system of Barcelona changed, as strikers went into the background and leaving Barcelona changed Icard’s life but the step into Italian football was decisive and without that decision, Icardi wouldn’t be a professional footballer today”
The Sampdoria Days
Mauro’s contract at Barcelona was supposed to run till 2013 but he was sent on loan to Sampdoria in January of 2011 until the end of the season, playing 19 games for the Primavera U19 Sampdoria team, scoring 13 goals and the Italians utilized the option to buy clause in the loan and paid about 400,000 Euros to secure the Argentine on a three year deal. He played the next season for Sampdoria in the reserve league and made his first-team debut in May 12, 2012, netting the winner as a sub in the 2-1 win against Juve Stabia. Icardi made his Serie A debut against Roma in September 2012 and scored his first Serie A goal in November against in the Derby della Lanterna against Genoa.
In January of 2013, he was influential in a Sampdoria upset against Juventus as Samp went on to win the game 1-2. That was The old lady’s second-ever loss in the Allianz stadium since it’s construction. Morano was right, Icardi was starting to shake things up in the forest of out-and-out number 9s That same January, he scored 4 goals when La Samp put 6 past Pescara and towards the end of the season, with Sampdoria struggling to stay up, he came up clutch again, helping Sampdoria to a 3-2 win over Juventus in the last game of the season. He had done the job he was brought into Sampdoria to do, he scored goals, they stayed up.
Icardi's Early Honeymoon at Inter
A mutual parting was always on the cards and in April, it was announced that Mauro would be joining Internazionale Milano in the summer of the 2013/2014 season. With 11 goals in 33 Serie A appearances, Inter were not signing an unknown quality but weren’t signing a player from the top shelf either. Walter Mazzari, the then Inter Milan coach also added another striker to the ranks that summer in Algerian Ishak Belfodil, who was also coming off the back of a similar season from Parma. Both of whom would be meeting Rodrigo Palacio at the club. But what would be different would be the career paths the two strikers would have from this point. Icardi would go on to brush aside the competition of Ishak Belfodil in less than a season as Belfodil only made 8 appearances in an Inter shirt before being chalked off on loan to Livorno and then permanently back to Parma. Yeah, that didn’t work out. But with statements like:
“I hope to do my best for the team and the fans, I can’t wait to start the new season. Moving to Inter is a dream come true”
Internazionale supporters would have thought it was just another generic statement coming from just another player… but Icardi would not be just another player for Inter Milan, in fact in the coming years and seasons, it would be the very popular ‘No Icardi, No Party’.
Icardi arrived on the back of a 6,500,000 euro fee and over the years, it’s fair to say that it was an absolute steal. Icardi would go on to make his debut in August and score his first goal against Juventus in September in a 1-1 draw after coming on as a sub. Injury would hamper his first season as he went on to miss the whole first half of the season only returning in February to bag the winner against Fiorentina at the Artemio Franchi on Valentine’s day and who knows, maybe that was the moment the love affair between Icardi and Interisti began.
He would go on to score vital goals in securing Inter’s qualification for the Europa League playoffs including a goal against his former employers Sampdoria, scoring also in Javier Zanetti’s last game for Inter Milan and would go on to end the season on 9 goals from 23 appearances with a goal every 145 minutes. At the end of the 2014 season, Inter would pay another 6,500,000 Euros to La Samp to terminate the existent co-ownership of Icardi.
Icardi’s clutch moments would continue into his second season at Inter. Feeling more at home now, he started scoring right from the first game of the season in a European two-legged tie. He went on to not only score decisive goals but brush off yet another strike partner with as much decisiveness as he took his goals. After Walter Mazzari was sacked in January and Roberto Mancini was appointed, Dani Osvaldo and Mauro had an in-game argument in the game against Juventus and this saw Dani Osvaldo leave the club a few days later. The Alpha male was really in town. Icardi did accept he was in the wrong as he said:
“I got it wrong as I should have passed but I saw a gap”
How Icardi Became Inter's Talisman
The move showed how much his value to Inter had skyrocketed. He was becoming indispensable; a vital cog in Inter’s machinery. However, while all of this was happening on the pitch, off the pitch Mauro was having an affair with his former teammate, Maxi Lopez’s wife, Wanda Nara. Going into this episode in detail would be a cumbersome read but in Icardi’s defence, the relationship of Wanda and Maxi Lopex was already ending at that time, however, Maxi still refused to shake Mauro’s hand and grabbed his own crotch when the pair met again when Inter faced Torino.
Barely five days after Osvaldo’s departure, Icardi was decisive again in Inter’s win against Genoa, which was a seeming indication to the whole world that he had nerves of steel. That season, If Inter lost but scored, you could almost be sure it was Mauro, and if Inter won, Icardi was always very decisive and not just stat padding, like modern football calls it now.
However, in the game against Sassuolo that same January, the performance was so bad that after the 3-1 loss at the Mapei stadium, he and Fredy Guarin tried to give the Inter Milan fans their shirts but they threw it back at them and hurled insults along with them. But he responded in Icardi fashion by scoring a week later in the 3-0 win over Palermo but he didn’t celebrate and said that it was because of his contract issues.
Icardi would go on to be joint top scorer and win the capocannonaire with Luca Toni of Hellas Verona. With Inter failing to secure any form of European competition for the next season, Icardi attracted European suitors but he would go on to sign a 4-year contract at the end of the season. Little did he know, that this particular season was only the beginning of his being in the spotlight for both footballing and non-footballing reasons.
Becoming The Scapegoat
The next season, Icardi was made Inter Milan captain by Roberto Mancini after Ranocchia’s poor 14/15 season. This weighed very little on both Icardi’s arm and heart. Goalscoring was in his DNA and win, lose or draw, he was almost always on the scoresheet. To the extent that midway through the first half of the season when he had a goal drought, he blamed his teammates for a lack of creativity.
“In ten matches, I have received four chances to score and I have taken three. I think that’s a good average”
He was benched by Mancini for the next game against Roma, citing tactical decisions and that was the first time Icardi’s all-round play was criticized for being too limited and was put back into the fray in the next game.
At the end of 2015, With Inter top of Serie A, Icardi was named in the top 100 footballers in the world by The Guardian at number 82. During the second half of the season, Icardi scored his 50th Inter goal in all competitions and also made his 100th Inter appearance and at the end of the season, it was reported that Inter had turned down a 30,000,000 Euros bid from Manchester United for Mauro. He was certainly worth more than that to the Italian Club.
The 2016 season started off slowly for Inter but of course, Icardi was still scoring goals left, right and center for the Nerazzurri under the guidance of new manager Frank De Boer and by November, Icardi had 7 goals in 8 games for Inter including a goal and assist against Juve. Fast forward to 7th of October and Icardi was again putting pen to paper on a new 4,500,000 euros per annum deal till 2021 with a release clause of 110,000,000 Euros with various bonuses. On the back of the new deal Icardi said:
“I’m really happy to have signed a new contract at the club that will keep me here until 2021. I have my agent and wife, Wanda to thank for this renewal and we are all pleased at home”
Fighting With The Ultras
Before this, he announced the release an Autobiography titled Sempre Avanti which means, Always Ahead and after his contract talks, the book hit the market. It was in the book that he talked in detail, about the heated exchange between himself and a head of the Curva Nord (Internazionale Ultras) after the 3-1 defeat at the Mapei.
“I took off my shirt and shorts and gave them to the Kid, it’s a shame that a head ultra flew over to him, took the shirt from his hands and threw it after me in disgust. In that instance, I would have punched him for that bastard gesture he just pulled.”
Icardi, clearly channeling the fact that he grew up in one of the worst neighborhoods in South America said he was willing to face the Ultras one on one and claimed in the book that he could get 100 criminals in Argentina who would wipe out the ultras on the spot. If in fact, there was a conversation like this with the Inter directors, then it was wise that it wasn’t relayed. The Curva Nord described Icardi’s narration of the events as lies made up to sell more copies and of course, the backlash against the striker was inevitable and swift with statements such as:
“An individual like this cannot be allowed to wear the Inter Captain’s armband”
Icardi would go on to have yet another good season with 24 goals in 34 appearances, a new personal best, however, he was fined, and forced to remove that chapter from his book.
Former AS Roma coach Luciano Spalletti joined Inter Milan in the summer of 2017 and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League was the next on Inter’s agenda of getting back to top level football. He knew Icardi would be key to that so he backed his striker from minute one with quips like:
“He is the captain of Inter and he is not your average kind of attacker. He wants the responsibility; he is a special kind of person, a great guy, and great professional”
Icardi didn’t disappoint, with a brace in the first two match days. He scored all 3 goals as Inter defeated cross-town rivals AC Milan 3-2. He was decisive for Inter throughout the season, managing to stay fit all through and he broke the 100 goal mark in the Serie A in a game away to his former side Sampdoria where he scored 4 goals taking his tally to 103 goals.
On the final day of the season, I-9 would once again be decisive is snatching away Champions League qualification from the hands of Lazio whom they played in that game. They went on to win 3-2. With 29 goals, he went on to win the capocannoniere again jointly with Lazio’s Ciro Immobile. Inter were back in the big time.
Icardi started this current season in non-Icardi fashion without a goal in the first 6 games of the season. He then went on to score against Spurs in the 2-1 win in the Champions league and again against PSV the next matchday. Icardi also got the crucial game-winner against AC Milan after the International break.
However, fast forward to February 13, 2019, amidst reported contract talks and negotiations, there was shock news that Icardi was to have the armband taken off him and handed to Samir Handanovic and Icardi was subsequently dropped for Inter Milan’s game against Rapid Vienna in the Europa League. Further digging brought about Wanda’s involvement in the ongoing malaise both as his agent and as his wife. Reports over the past weeks have been that Wanda had been consistently slandering the club while dutifully bigging up Icardi’s value and salary worth.
Personal Issues Interfere
With reports saying last Sunday’s (9th of February) training was with an awfully awkward air and this is in conjunction with Icardi’s form which has tailed off recently as he is without a goal in open play since October and hasn’t scored in his last 16 shots on goal. It was said that the team wanted Icardi to sort things out with his wife but she reportedly went over the line with the teammates when she said that Icardi has “personal problems” with Perisic. Perisic went to Icardi and told him:
“Tell your wife that she doesn’t have to speak about me on TV”
And ultimately between Icardi and the rest of the players, the club chose the rest with Spalletti saying
“Taking the armband off Icardi was a difficult and painful decision, but we know his worth. However, we took it together with all of the club’s components involved. It was done exclusively for the good of Inter”
He was left out of Inter Milan’s 2-1 victory over Sampdoria on 17th February with Interisti saying it was the right call. Whether or not this is the end of the Love affair between Internazionale and Mauro Icardi or whether its just a needed break to clear things up going into the business end of the season remains to be seen.
A precedence of Icardi’s off-field issues doesn’t really help matters here and while Lautaro Martinez may be able to deputize for a few games, if Inter Milan want to cling on to the Champions League places, they need to sort out the Icardi issue and fast. Icardi was at the game against Sampdoria and was seemed to be in a joyous mood when the winner went in for Inter. One thing is sure, Icardi loves Inter and the Interisti value Icardi, but with rumors already flying around of an impending transfer, the breakdown in communications between all parties as regards the contract renewal and making up with the team needs sorting out.