On paper, his stats are brilliant; 29 goals in 34 appearances in Serie A, up 5 goals from the previous season for the same number of appearances. He tied with Ciro Immobile for the Capocannoniere; Icardi, however, contributed significantly more towards his team. Admittedly, Inter are by style a low-scoring team – and Lazio are the exact opposite – making it more likely that the Inter captain would be responsible for a higher share of goals than Immobile. However, Icardi is responsible for nearly half of Inter’s goals in Serie A. And that is a staggering figure, low-scoring team or not, playing as he does for a team typically fighting for a Champions League spot.
Mauro Icardi is also incredibly efficient. According to Squawka, he tallied a 63% shot accuracy during the 2017/18 season, which – albeit marginally – is the best in Europe. Roughly speaking, one in every three shots that Icardi takes is a goal.
On paper, then, you would be a fool to choose not to include him in your lineup. Why, then, have Argentina’s national team managers continually done just that?
For one, Argentina has a wealth of choices in offense. No other nation has as many elite options at forward as they do; Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuain; all of whom, as it stands, available and competing. This makes Icardi’s exclusion a lot easier to bear for the average fan, and a much easier choice to make for the head coach. If this had been, say, Lewandowski rather than Icardi, and Poland instead of Argentina, the issue would be much, much bigger and the risk of flopping on the world stage that much higher.
Offending the ultras?
In addition, the man is a problem bordering on a public relations nightmare. Although his on-pitch narrative is spot on, it’s his off-pitch story that plays more of a part in keeping him out of the Argentina squad. His eccentric lifestyle – to put it mildly – and questionable morals are particularly troubling.
Icardi, by personality, is not one to shy away from conflict. In his own words, he “grew up in one of the South American neighbourhoods with the highest rates of crime and people killed in the street.” Makes sense, then, that he has been at odds at times with some of Inter’s notorious ultras.
It’s a rare thing in football to have the ultras – who are by definition the craziest amongst a club’s supporters – turn on one of their own players. Much less the club’s captain. But this is exactly what happened with Mauro Icardi and Inter’s ultras.
The events which transpired really seem quite petty now in hindsight. It began when Icardi and Guarin went over to thank the fans after Inter’s game against Sassuolo (which they lost 3-1) on February the 1st of 2015. Icardi handed over his shirt to a young fan who had traveled to see the game. However, then, after events that aren’t quite clear, the shirt is thrown back to Icardi, and heated exchanges follow with the ultras.
Out of the fire…
Fast forward 20 months, in which time Icardi published his autobiography Sempre Avanti (he was only 23 years of age at the time), to Inter’s game against Cagliari. Icardi, for reasons unknown, chose to include his memories of that inauspicious night in this autobiography. Of course, the ultras took objection to his portrayal of events, labelling his narration of the night’s happenings as “Lies. Lies. Lies.” The ultras even took a hard stance on his captaincy, judging Icardi as unfit for the armband of this monumental club. They booed their captain every time he received the ball in that game against Cagliari, jeering him even as he won (and then missed) a penalty. Icardi, perhaps forced by Inter or perhaps seeing that there’s only one way this whole debacle was going to end, apologized to the Curva on Instagram. His apology, though, was declined.
The ultras demanded that he remove the infamous passage of “lies” from his book if he wanted forgiveness. Icardi, upon instructions from the club, promptly obliged.
…into the frying pan…
Icardi’s off-pitch troubles, though, don’t end there. Prior to his run-in with the ultras, he did his best to re-enact the script seemingly from a soap opera.
Again for reasons quite unknown, he “stole” the celeb wife of his former teammate at Sampdoria, Maxi Lopez. And if you thought for a second that Argentinians wouldn’t have cared about this or that, by chance, it all would have flown harmlessly above their heads, you would be quite wrong. Icardi’s actions prompted the creation of an entirely new verb, “icardiar”, which means “to steal the girlfriend of a friend”. And if that wasn’t enough, he got branded a “traitor” by Diego Maradona (although let’s be honest here, you would be hard-pressed to find people who Diego Maradona hasn’t called any names).
His subsequent marriage to Wanda Nara upset quite a few people, but none more than the spurned Maxi Lopez. A month before the wedding took place, Inter played Sampdoria and Lopez pointedly refused to shake Icardi’s hands.
Icardi has also publicly taunted Lopez by posing with his kids on social media with captions meant to take a dig at Maxi’s alleged irresponsible fathership.
…and off the team
And all of these off-pitch endeavors have seemingly cost Icardi a spot on the Argentine national team for this World Cup. There are rumours that perhaps Mascherano or Messi had a say in that too, that maybe Icardi’s personality was too bullish for a locker room that needed to be united throughout this competition. However, when analyzing all of the things that Icardi was allegedly left out of Argentina’s squad for, it seems clear that it was not a decision made solely in consideration of his abilities as a footballer. It’s much more complicated.