Mauro Icardi could be the perfect partner for Leo Messi. But a bro-code sees the Inter ace in Argentina exile
“Icardi is not part of the football family,” were the words of Diego Maradona when the iconic World Cup winner was supposed to line up alongside Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi in a charity match for world peace in 2014.
For all of Maradona’s brilliance on the pitch, the 56-year-old has courted his own fair share of controversy off it, but it appears that Icardi’s marriage to a teammate’s ex-wife is something that cannot be forgiven by parts of the ‘football family’.
Maradona is not alone in his opinion that, whatever talent and form might say to the contrary, there is no room in the Argentina squad for Icardi – it’s bros before goals so to speak.
— Ciudad Magazine (@ciudad_magazine) January 6, 2017
This view was perhaps highlighted better than ever this past week as captain Icardi played a vital role in Inter Milan earning a fourth straight win after notching his sixth assist of the season. Always a prolific scorer of goals, the 23-year-old is adding new facets to his game and leading by example with the Nerazzurri.
With fourteen goals already, Icardi leads the Serie A scoring charts and in addition to his assists, it makes the striker one of only two players in Europe’s top five leagues to have been directly involved in 20 goals (Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez being the other).
However, Maradona remains unswayed and despite these accomplishments, maintains Icardi’s absence from the national team is entirely justified. “Before calling Icardi, I’d call up Bazan Vera,” a now-retired 43-year-old journeyman, who mostly played in Argentina’s lower leagues. “Let Icardi be the seventh choice striker, not the fourth,” concluded Maradona.
Argentina manager Edgardo Bauza has provided a little more optimism but is yet to call upon Icardi and give him what would only be a second appearance in La Albiceleste following his debut against Uruguay in October 2013. Despite growing calls for Icardi’s inclusion, Bauza, a former Argentina teammate of Maradona, has said, “Our starting striker is [Gonzalo] Higuain and behind him is [Lucas] Pratto. Icardi will be called if something happens to one of these players as he’s our third striker. He knows he could be called anytime.”
However, given Higuain’s propensity to fluff his lines when it really counts after several chances and 28-year-old Lucas Pratto still plying his club trade in South America, is Icardi not deserving of more?
A regular goal scorer in one of Europe’s top leagues for several seasons, Icardi became the youngster capocannoniere in Serie A since the great Paolo Rossi in 1978 when he scored 22 goals in the 2015/15 season and despite clashing with supporters on a couple of occasions, has shown a great degree of professionalism, evident by being made captain by Roberto Mancini, a coach not known to accept insubordination.
But while Inter coaches may have had no qualms over his commitment, Icardi’s personal life looms over his career and threatens to do so until he retires.
Icardi’s marriage to Wanda Nara in 2014 is at the centre of this and while the headstrong 23-year-old couldn’t care less about other people’s opinions, it has undoubtedly affected his chances with Argentina. The two met while Icardi was at Sampdoria and Nara was married to teammate Maxi Lopez, and if the wedding between them while the ink on her divorce papers to Lopez had barely dried didn’t raise enough eyebrows, their subsequent conduct certainly did.
A bitter row between Lopez and Icardi played out over social media was stoked by the young striker getting a tattoo with the names of Maxi’s three children, who he had become step-father to and after leaving Sampdoria for Inter, the fixture list now throws up the biseasonal ‘Wanda Clasico’ where the pair ignore each other during the traditional pregame handshake.
Perhaps better suited to an Italian soap opera, matters could have been dealt with far better but there comes a point when whatever your opinion, it shouldn’t affect selection decisions. None of the current group have come out against Icardi’s inclusion, despite rumours that Javier Mascherano is a friend of Maxi Lopez, and has voiced his concern privately.
— Vanity Fair Italia (@VanityFairIt) December 11, 2016
At a time when Bauza’s squad is misfiring and ageing, Icardi warrants a closer look. The 23-year-old is one of the top number-nines in Europe and is desperate to prove his worth having spurned Italy’s advances.
“My dream is to wear the Argentina shirt so I’m not sorry I rejected Italy,”Icardi said recently. “My aim is to keep scoring and playing well and change the mind of the Argentina coaching staff.”
For now, Icardi remains waiting for that shot but 1978 World Cup winner Mario Kempes voiced what is becoming an increasingly popular response to Maradona and his moral crusaders this week: “I don’t care what someone does off the pitch, provided they don’t cause problems in the dressing room, on the pitch or in the camp.”