Mauro Icardi - Just how good is he?
He may hail from Rosario, but make no mistake Mauro Icardi is very different to what has come before from the famous Argentinean city.
Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Mascherano are just a few of the sons from the port city located 300 km from the capital Buenos Aires. Icardi has little in common with any of them aside from where they all reside, and that’s especially so on the football field.
Icardi’s a 1.81m striker, almost awkward to look at for some. His style of play doesn’t often leave the most aesthetically pleasing taste in the mouth either. It would be naive to ignore the fact Icardi has improved greatly over the last year or so, however. Once seen as a lumbering, isolated centre-forward unwilling to contribute to the team, he’s now turned his game on its head and taken new-found responsibility as Inter’s leader extremely seriously.
The Argentinean has instead become a unselfish, hard worker performer leading from the front by taking the game to his opponents. This is perhaps to be expected as Icardi hit 24-years-old and his game required a certain kind of maturity. He’s grown stronger in all regards, from physically to mentally. It hasn’t been lost on his peers or rivals either.
“When watching Inter, I was really impressed by Icardi tracking back against Chievo to win the ball,” Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini said of the striker back in February 2017. Indeed, perhaps Icardi’s best showing to date in an Inter shirt came against Juventus, when he scored one and supplied another. His assists have taken on a whole new dimension too, with Icardi not just content to finish moves himself and wait for the ball to arrive at his feet. He provided eight assists last term and while he’s yet to register one this season, there is still that imposing nature that allows him to lead the line effortlessly.
In terms of pure goals, Icardi is as lethal as ever. He has 9 goals in 9 appearances this term, as he leads a brave new Inter project. This was capped recently with a stunning hat-trick against great rivals Milan. There, in the derby, under the most severe pressure, Icardi finished expertly twice from open play and landed the winner with a penalty. There is a steely, cold blood flowing through Icardi’s game and it helps him be lethal in front of goal.
While we’ve seen some top class forwards such as Karim Benzema second guess themselves in front of goal at times, it seems Icardi isn’t weighed down by such a thing. Instead, he is a pure menace in the penalty area, coming alive with every sniff of a chance. New coach Luciano Spalletti had already been won over by Icardi in no time.
“He's one of the best players I've ever coached. As we look for consistency, we've had some dips in form and this is part of the growth process.
"I've asked Mauro to drop further back more, he's focused on this and I know he'll take advantage of it. We have to be better at getting the ball forward.”
So once more, we’ll see further shaping of Icardi’s game and come World Cup time next summer, we could be seeing a considerably better player than the one who has already dominated Serie A. Icardi’s finally involved in the Argentina setup and fears of ructions within the camp have been quelled as the Inter man has settled effortlessly. With Gonzalo Higuain seemingly out of the picture under Jorge Sampaoli it could be that Icardi has the role of centre-forward for the under-achieving nation in his grasp.
“Icardi is what we need right now. We require a striker who attacks the space and is not just a goalscorer. We are seeking alternatives and that is why I brought in Icardi.” said Sampaoli in a recent Argentina press conference. Despite past soap operas off the field, matters on it require a player of Icardi’s ability.
What next for Icardi? There are two clear goals on the way to announcing himself as the best striker in the world. The first is to restore Inter’s great name and helm this new era at the club. The second is to help Messi and finally deliver a trophy on the world stage for Argentina. Both are well within Icardi’s reach.