21 Striker Internazionale Argentina
2014 has been…
Distracting. In April, Mauro Icardi and Internazionale visited Sampdoria and the focus was squarely on gossip. Icardi, formerly a team-mate of Maxi Lopez at Sampdoria, was in an intensely public relationship with his former friend’s ex-wife, Wanda Nara, and Lopez ducked a handshake before kick-off.
The youngster had the last laugh, earning a rebuke from coach Walter Mazzarri for a provocative celebration after scoring in Inter’s 4-0 win. He scored twice; Maxi had a penalty saved. The Mauro and Wanda soap opera reached its peak when they got married in Buenos Aires in May.
The heavily inked groom has paid tribute to his new wife by customising his boots – and to hers and Maxi’s children in a new tattoo – and the couple, now expecting their first child, flaunt their happiness relentlessly. Icardi says social networks are his drug. No prizes for guessing who features more than anything else when he’s getting his fix.
Icardi is as flash as they come, a glittering, smirking monument to the frightening wealth of football’s Wunderkinder. In October he showed up at training in a gleaming white and blue Rolls Royce, a gift to his wife, and, naturally, he tweeted a photograph. Before ever playing a senior game as a youngster at Barcelona he bought himself a Hummer.
Despite these unavoidable and rather unendearing distractions, which are unfortunately as much a part of the man as his football career at this point, Icardi is a young man worth talking about.
He found his way to Barcelona during his youth career after moving from Rosario to the Canary Islands at the age of six. He made it as far as the Under-19 team before being loaned, then sold, to Sampdoria. At the beginning of the 2013/14 season he headed for Milan to join Internazionale.
He misses the sea, he says. Fortunately his football’s beginning to do the talking now that his sports hernia problems – said by a doctor to be exacerbated by his sex life, which Nara described as “energetic” – seem to be in the rear-view mirror.
Many observers think Icardi doesn’t score enough goals, which is a fair assessment, but he offers so much more. He has a deceptively long stride and gets across the ground quickly despite looking like he’s not in control of his own legs, and he has a good leap which, in combination with his already ample frame, makes him a useful target.
He’s strong with his back to goal and holds the ball up well under pressure, and works hard in the channels when needs be. He’s a livewire, a nuisance, the kind of focal point striker that gives defenders problems constantly.
It goes without saying that Icardi doesn’t lack confidence. He’s a vocal presence up front and has no reticence when it comes to telling the players around him what he wants. But he can drift out of games too easily. Some days he’ll dominate defenders and score. Some days he’ll be the perfect micro-representation of a limp Inter display. And, importantly, there are also matches in which he’ll look out of form and still grab a couple of goals.
Icardi’s positioning, movement and first touch are real weapons. He’s at his best when dropping slightly and bringing others into the game, though he appears to prefer to play on the shoulder of the last man and get in behind. He finishes well from close range and also has the ability to score stunning, blistering goals like his second against Bologna in April, an unstoppable strike that threw all the drama and nonsense into the shadows of a genuinely exciting prospect.
If we asked you to list the greatest Argentine players to have played in Serie A, it wouldn’t be too long before the names Diego Maradona and Gabriel Batistuta spilled out. Icardi idolises the latter and is utterly despised by the former. Best to focus on Batigol, then, and becoming a lethal marksman in Italy’s top flight would be a very big step towards emulating his hero.
Icardi looks to have the attributes but there remain the inconsistencies that come with being a young player on the big stage. He finishes well but doesn’t finish often enough. He shoots well but doesn’t score enough, though he’s starting to get there. And he has a big impact when he has any impact at all.
Inter need Icardi to make the most of his potential because they’re otherwise quite hollow. His partners and competition up front, Dani Osvaldo and Rodrigo Palacio, both seem to perform better playing off him than playing without him, and he should end up being better than both of them.
For now, Icardi seems happy at the San Siro. There’s always huge interest from elsewhere, however, and Inter must keep their man despite the inevitable big money offers coming his way.
Despite spending his youth in the Canary Islands, Icardi says he feels fully Argentinian and earned his first and only senior cap under Alex Sabella a year ago. With the next World Cup arriving in his mid-20s, establishing himself first in the Argentina squad and then in the team should be Icardi’s next targets. More consistency and a bit of sandpaper round the rough, petulant and cocky edges would go a long way to achieving them.
"Hard to see beyond the Wanda Nara-Maxi Lopez soap opera, but Icardi is one of the most promising young strikers around. His finishing is excellent & he appears to perform best when the spotlight is brightest." - Adam Digby
"Mauro Icardi's conversion rate in Serie A in the last 12 months (24.6%) is better than Higuain (24.3%), Tevez (22.3%) and Di Natale (21.4%)." - OptaJoe
C Stay focused on the football
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