Play for the name on the front of the shirt, and they’ll remember the name on the back.
If you remove all qualitative data from Mauro Icardi’s six-year spell as Inter’s talisman and bomber, you’d be perplexed as to why a fanbase would be so relieved to see the back of a player who has contributed 124 goals in little over 200 games.
On paper, the Argentine striker is a force who would be welcome at just about any elite club in Europe. His numbers speak for themselves. The Inter star surpassed 20 league goals in three of his six campaigns with I Nerazzurri – excelling even when the quality of his teammates fluctuated from distinctly poor to average.
Icardi cemented his status as the big-game player during his time at San Siro, scoring clutch goals at crucial times against Serie A’s big hitters, and he was the sole cause of a whole lotta pain for bitter rivals Milan.
In 2017, Icardi cooly tucked away a 90th minute penalty to clinch a dramatic 3-2 victory over I Rossoneri, and celebrated by holding his shirt aloft, reminding the supporters just who their idolo was. It was an iconic moment in the forward’s most prolific season, as he went on to net a staggering 29 goals in 34 league games.
Icardi was turning plenty of heads, and after finally leading Inter back to the Champions League scene, he was rumoured to be a subject of interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, with his value rocketing beyond €100m.
When Icardi did his talking on the pitch for I Nerazzurri, there were very few strikers in the game who could hold a candle to his ruthlessness and natural-born killer instinct. Time and time again, the 27-year-old dug his club out of the vastest of canyons with last-minute winners, to the point that, with every passing minute that he failed to score against your team, the more resigned you became to what was coming.
He was inevitable. But even more inevitable was the big, red self-destruct button, begging to be pushed for a number of years. And it was just too tempting for Icardi to resist. The club captain managed to incur the wrath of the entire Interista fanbase, bringing San Siro and his career crashing down around him.
Icardi had already been forced to build several seemingly irreparable bridges with the Inter ultras in 2015 and 2016, before the eventual split in 2019, which proved to be final. Firstly, the then-22-year-old captain dished out some choice words to his irate fans after a 3-1 defeat to Sassuolo, when having thrown his shirt into the stands as a form of apology, he saw his jersey chucked straight back at him by the restless crowd.
And a year later, with tensions finally cooling, Icardi lit the touch paper once more, revisiting that eventful afternoon in his autobiography, and effectively calling out the Inter ultras for a set-to at his house.
Have a read of the following passage from Sempre Avanti (Always Ahead), and have a think whether you would want this type of character leading your football club.
“I’m ready to face them one by one. Maybe they don’t know that I grew up in one of the South American neighbourhoods with the highest crime rates and people getting killed in the street.
“How many of them (the ultras) are there? Fifty? A hundred? Two hundred? OK, record my message and let them hear it. I will bring 100 criminals from Argentina who will kill them on the spot.”
I Nerazzurri ultras responded with a number of banners, one which read ‘100 goals and 100 trophies will not cancel out what a piece s**t you are’. Pretty clear, really.
But yet after all that, Inter’s most loyal followers and their leader swept an ocean of anger under the bridge, and made peace. It helped that, ironically, Icardi would go on to get more than 100 goals, and although he failed to deliver trophies, his timely strikes did heal the gaping wounds.
Football fans are fickle folk, after all.
But having being handed the captain’s armband at such a young age, Icardi had it ripped from him midway through the 2018/19 season, after his wife and agent Wanda Nara had publicly criticised the decision-making and tactics of coach Luciano Spalletti on a popular Italian football chat-show.
She also lamented the club’s treatment of her husband, and openly discussed their stalled contract negotiations, generally undermining everything and everyone at San Siro. Icardi’s sister, clearly not a fan of Wanda, described the agent as a ‘viper’ and begged her brother to see some sense.
He did not.
Icardi hardly featured after this public spat, but Inter rolled on without him, as starlet Lautaro Martinez announced himself as the heir to the now poisoned throne. And despite a century of goals and dozen’s of match-winning contributions, Icardi’s on-field absence was scarcely noticed, despite his self-claimed importance to the Italian giants.
The moral to the story is, no man is bigger than the club. The Argentine was frozen out in the cold as soon as those values looked to have been forgotten. He had all the makings of a club legend, but that self-destructive personality cast a shadow too large for his undisputed talent. Some players are just not worth the hassle, no matter how good they are.
Icardi has spent this season on loan at Paris Saint-Germain, where he has mostly played second fiddle to the club’s all-time leading scorer, Edinson Cavani.
But with the Uruguayan hit-man set to leave Paris this summer, they have decided to make Icardi’s loan move permanent – despite Wanda claiming she and her husband would prefer a return to Italy. Get used to that, PSG fans.
When the dust settles, this deal will look like a sound piece of business for all parties involved – on paper, at least. But football is famously not played on paper.
For Mauro Icardi the player, €50m is a bargain for PSG.
For Mauro Icardi the person, €50m is daylight robbery by Inter.
Unfortunately for the French champions, you can’t have one without the other. Bonne chance, Paris.