For too long much of the world has been unfamiliar with the name: Mauro Icardi. By the end of this season, that will have changed. Icardi, captain of Italian giants FC Internazionale Milano, is the new King of Serie A.
Mauro Icardi’s path to international stardom has been, to say the least, a bumpy road. He came to Inter from Sampdoria in the summer of 2013. Being only 20 years of age at the time and rather unknown except for the Sampdoria faithful and the most die-hard of Serie A fans, Icardi came to Inter on the heels of what was arguably the greatest period in club history (Inter won five consecutive Italian championships between 2005/06 and 2009/10 and became the first Italian club to win the treble in 2010 by winning the Coppa Italia, the Scudetto and the UEFA Champions League).
All Kings Must First be a Prince
At the time Icardi joined Inter, the club was on the decline and had gone through several ownership changes in addition to a fair share of unsuccessful managerial hires. Everyone associated with the club knew it would be difficult for anyone to follow the incredibly successful Jose Mourinho, who departed for Real Madrid after the 2009-10 season. Inter’s rapid fall however, was almost unprecedented. In 2010-11 the side enjoyed another successful season following their treble-winning campaign, finishing second in Serie A, winning the Coppa Italia for the second consecutive time, but were eliminated in the quarter finals of the Champions League. It would be five years before Inter were relevant in Serie A again. It can be argued that Icardi came to Inter in the midst of one of their worst periods in decades.
You have to play the cards you are dealt. Simply put, those are the rules of life. For the newly-acquired Mauro Icardi, the hand he was dealt prior to his inaugural season with Inter looked rather bleak. Inter finished an embarrassing ninth place the previous campaign (their worst Serie A finish since 1999) with an aging Diego Milito, a lack of supporting talent, and financial woes that were preventing the club from signing marquee names to the squad, the future for the Nerazzurri was surrounded by uncertainty.
Mauro Icardi was brought in to replace an old (by football standards) Diego Milito and and aging Rodrigo Palacio. He was being groomed to be the next great striker in Inter Milan’s long and illustrious history. These were lofty expectations for such a young lad who had never experienced the pressure of playing for a top fifteen European club. However, Icardi would not disappoint. In just his second league match while wearing an Inter shirt he scored a goal against defending Italian champions Juventus, securing a 1:1 draw for his team. Mauro Icardi announced his arrival at Inter with a thunderous clap.
It would be a disservice to this article, this site, and to Mauro himself if the personal issues with former Sampdoria teammate Maxi Lopez were not mentioned. After the relationship between Mauro and Maxi Lopez’s then-wife Wanda was exposed, Icardi became persona non grata in the world of Argentine football. It has been rumoured that Lionel Messi did not care much for Icardi and of course it never helps when perhaps the greatest football player who ever lived, Diego Maradona, publicly denounces you (ironic coming from Maradona, who has been anything but a saint during his career and life).
Although it has damaged Icardi’s reputation, even to this day, the man himself seemed almost unfazed. If two people are going to be together, there is little anyone can do to stop it. Mauro Icardi is a stronger person for having endured the years of hate, insults, and threats that have come his way as a result of his relationship with his now-wife Wanda Icardi. Wanda filed for divorce from Lopez in 2013 and she and Mauro were married in early 2015. They now have two beautiful children together, Isabella and Francesca. It appears what Mauro and Wanda have is indeed genuine and real. Mauro’s instagram is filled with images of his family and the passion he has for them shines through in each frame.
The fact that Mauro Icardi essentially “stole” another man’s wife will never leave him. There will always be haters and people who disagree with his marriage. The hell with that. If Wanda found her true happiness in the arms of Mauro Icardi rather than Maxi Lopez, the end result was unavoidable. The “dishonest” manner in which it all happened though, is something that Mauro has learned from. To be able to ignore the negativity he receives as a result of these actions is a testament to his unbelievable mental toughness. He is remorseful for hurting his friend and the disharmony it caused for all parties involved. His only course of action at this point is to continue to be a good husband and father, and to simply live his life. People make mistakes, while learning and growing along the way. Mauro Icardi is no exception.
The Path to Stardom Begins
Inter rebounded somewhat in Serie A in 2013-14, finishing in the top five during Icardi’s debut season with the club, though still a far cry from where they had been only a few years earlier. By the spring of 2014 Mauro was a regular starter for the team. For The Nerazzurri, the 2014-15 season would end in disastrous fashion as the side would yet again finish outside of the European places in the table for the second time in three years (Let us not forget, this was a club only five years removed from a treble). Despite the side’s poor league finish, Mauro Icardi announced himself as the future of Inter by winning the prestigious Capocannoniere. (Serie A’s Golden Boot award) This came in only his second season with the club at the tender age of 22, making him the youngest winner since 1978.
In the second match of the 2014-15 season Icardi scored his first Serie A hat-trick in a 7:0 destruction of Sassuolo at the San Siro. He would score a brace on three occasions including the season-finale, a 4:3 victory over Empoli, which he needed in order to clinch his share of the Capocannoniere (Icardi shared the award with Luca Toni. Each player having scored 22 goals). Despite Icardi’s brilliant season, Inter struggled to maintain any consistency. This was in large part due to four players who left the club at the same time, all of which were instrumental in the Nerazzurri winning the treble in 2010. Javier Zanetti, Walter Samuel, Diego Milito, and Esteban Cambiasso said farewell to Inter during the 2014 summer transfer window. Collectively, they left behind a huge void that would be hard to fill in such a short amount of time. Inter’s poor squad planning and financial woes were instrumental in the club performing so poorly in the season that followed their departures.
In the summer of 2015 Inter embarked on a shopping spree in an attempt to quickly rise back to prominence in Italy’s top flight and end their string of seasons of not qualifying for club football’s most prestigious competition, the Champions League. There was also an attempt to give Icardi some much needed help in attack, where Inter had become one-dimensional. With such an influx of talent, much of which came from abroad, the squad lacked the “togetherness” of leading clubs such as Napoli and Juventus. As a result, then-manager Roberto Mancini constantly changed the lineup and the side was unable to sustain the fantastic start they enjoyed during the first half of the 2015-16 campaign.
Inter were top of the Serie A table entering match day 19 during the 2015-16 season, but after a 0:1 defeat to Sassuolo that saw them drop to third place, they were never again able to recapture that position and form. Mancini’s side was one of the most inconsistent in the league following the winter transfer period, limping to a fourth place finish, one position off from a Champions League opportunity. It was Inter’s best finish in five years, yet most would argue, it felt more like a failed effort than a success.
Mauro Icardi lead the team in goals for the second consecutive season, though he appeared far less dominant than the year prior. As a collective unit, Inter struggled to score goals in 2015-16, tallying a total of 50, which ranked them dead last among the top five teams in the table by quite some distance. The team was not a cohesive unit and the lack of lineup consistency under Mancini was not only affecting the team’s performance, but also Icardi as an individual. It was quite transparent that there was a hunger missing inside of him as rumours began to swirl of a possible departure from the club.
Tough Lessons Learned as Inter’s “Il Capitano”
Mauro Icardi was named Inter captain prior to the 2015-16 season at the age of 22. For a major European club, this was quite the anomoly. “Too young, too soon,” many club supporters would cry. Despite their best league finish in half a decade, it was clear that something was missing. Could Icardi lead a group of players (most of which were new to the squad and from foreign leagues) to sustained excellence when he himself still had so much to learn? It was apparent that under Roberto Mancini the side was riding down a bumpy road. As a result, Mancini was sacked two weeks before the 2016-17 Serie A campaign began. He was replaced by Frank de Boer, who while successful at Ajax Amsterdam, could not have been a poorer fit for the Nerazzurri. With only fourteen days to adopt a new system under a new manager, Inter’s season was over before it began.
Not surprisingly, Inter’s first match was a humiliating 2:0 defeat to Chievo Verona, followed by a 1:1 draw against perennial bottom-feerder club Palermo at the San Siro. Things appeared to be improving a few weeks later as Inter defeated five-time defending Serie A champions Juventus 2:1 in the Derby d’Italia. It was Inter’s first league win against Juventus since 2012, with Icardi scoring the equalizer as well as assisting the winning goal. Mauro followed this stellar performance with a brace against Empoli in a 0:2 win. Icardi had ascended to the top of the goal scorers table having scored six goals in six appearances.
A few weeks after this fantastic run of form, Mauro Icardi, with his wife and agent Wanda by his side, put all doubt aside regarding his future with Inter Milan. The player signed a new five year contract which he credited Wanda for securing. “I am really happy to have signed this new contract that will keep me at the club until 2021. My dream is to win trophies with this team. I heard a lot of things during the transfer window, as you always do, but the club was on my side. I have my agent and wife Wanda to thank for this renewal. We are all pleased at home.” Icardi stated.
Despite Icardi’s personal success, Inter’s stock was plummeting, with the team only winning one match in the month of October, securing three points out of a possible fifteen. This would result in the sacking of Frank de Boer and the hiring of former Lazio manager, Stefano Pioli. Icardi was playing at another level, regardless of who the manager was. In a five match span from October 26th through November 28th, Icardi scored a brace on three occasions while assisting two goals in the process. He finished the first half of the season with fourteen goals scored and five assists, making him the most efficient striker among the world’s top five leagues. Maurito was ranked ahead of both Cristiano Ronaldo and countryman Lionel Messi in this category. As an individual player, Icardi had become one of the sport’s elite. Yet, something was still missing as we would come to witness.
In the midst of Inter’s free-fall in the Serie A table in October, Icardi added fuel to the fire with the release of his highly controversial autobiography: “Sempre Avanti.” An entire chapter had to be removed from the book post-publishing because it created such a divide between the Inter “ultras” and player himself (By the way, who releases an autobiography at age 23?). In that chapter he told a story about an encounter he had with fans after a loss to Sassuolo. After being heckled by these supporters Icardi claims that he replied with the following: “I will bring 100 criminals from Argentina who will kill them where they stand. Then we will see.”
Inter vice-president Javier Zanetti was ready to strip Icardi of the captaincy claiming: “We cannot accept this behaviour from a person that works with our club.” The infamous Curva Nord, where many “ultras” reside at the San Siro, had a slightly different message for Icardi. Written on a banner, shortly after the book was published, a clear message was being delivered: “You are not a man…You are not a captain…You are just a piece of s**t.”
Icardi quickly apologized for the words he used in the book, admitting that he exaggerated some of the things he had said. “I used threatening words towards the fans. I should not have done that. I look for you (the fans) every time I score a goal, because I love Inter. I hope that you understand how important you are for me and Inter.” Needless to say, the damage had been done and many were quite unsure whether Mauro could repair this fractured relationship. The aftermath of this ordeal would be another test of the player’s incredible mental toughness. A lesser man would have crumbled but not Mauro Icardi.
The Road to Redemption and Earning the Crown
The healing process for Mauro Icardi and the Inter supporters had to begin somewhere. One thing remains true in sports: winning cures everything. Shortly after Stefano Pioli was appointed as Inter’s manager, the side won seven consecutive Serie A matches, climbing from ninth to fourth in the table. The gap to the top three however, was simply too large as Inter had dug themselves too deep a hole under previous manager Frank de Boer. Inter were collecting points from Italy’s lesser sides, but were mostly unsuccessful in the marquee match-ups against Juventus, Milan, Napoli, and Roma. The Nerazzurri were only able to accumulate five points against these opponents during the 2016-17 season, effectively ending their goal of reaching the Champions League.
One could sense that Icardi and co. realized their dream of a top three finish was over following consecutive losses to Sampdoria and Crotone late in the season. Inter lost six matches out of seven from April 3rd through May 14th, the lone exception coming in the form of a draw against Milan in the Derby della Madonnina. This resulted in the sacking of Stefano Pioli. Icardi netted two hat-tricks during the second half of the season and finished 2016-17 with 24 goals in 34 appearances. The team on the other hand, had massively underachieved and were in desperate need of strong leadership, both on the pitch and from the touchline, if they are going to be contenders in Italy’s top flight.
Ask and you shall receive. After two fantastic seasons at Roma, Luciano Spalletti and the club mutually split two days after the 2016-17 season concluded. Ten days later on June 9th, he was confirmed as the new manager of Inter Milan. Unbeknownst to many at the time, this would be the final ingredient needed to make Mauro Icardi a complete player while simultaneously guiding Inter back to Serie A relevancy.
Though Icardi performed spectacularly under Mancini, de Boer and Pioli, something was missing. None of these managers could motivate Mauro Icardi to push himself and take his game from great to elite. This is precisely what Spalletti was able to do prior to the 2017-18 season. Inter spent big money the previous summer and focused on adding the final pieces to the puzzle during Spalletti’s first Mercato in charge. These would be the complimentary pieces that would solidify Inter’s starting XI while adding much-needed squad depth. More importantly, new owners Suning provided their superstar with a great supporting cast. In football terms this is historically the final stroke of the brush on a masterpiece.
Icardi has said of Spalletti: “He has a clear idea of what we should do, now it is up to us to make a difference on the pitch. He is good in transferring his will and conviction to us, and this is something that we have not had in the past seasons. Spalletti gives us a hunger that I have never felt before.” It is precisely this change in attitude that has launched Icardi into the stratosphere. He opened the 2017-18 campaign with a brace in each of the first two matches against Serie A powers Fiorentina and Roma. Inter was immediately back on the radar of Italian football.
It was in the derby against Milan though, where Icardi announced himself as the premier striker in the world. In a 3:2 victory over their cross-city rivals, Mauro Icardi accounted for all three of Inter’s goals, becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in the Derby della Madoninna since former teammate Diego Milito in 2012. Inter’s stock is finally on the rise and Mauro Icardi is leading by example. Luciano Spalletti has not only made him a better player, he has made him a better captain. “He is the captain of Inter, and is not your average attacker. I have always told that he is the backbone like Ibrahimovic, because he wants the responsbility, he is a special kind of person and football player. A great guy and a great professional.” says Spalletti of Icardi.
Mauro Icardi has matured under the leadership of Luciano Spalletti. He wears the captain’s armband with pride and has the respect of his teammates. He has made a number of mistakes while wearing the iconic shirt of the Nerazzurri, but has never faltered. His mental toughness has been the key factor in not giving up or simply requesting a transfer. He has acknowledged his errors and has attempted to repair his relationship with the Inter supporters, a work still in progress. Icardi truly loves Inter and is proud to wear the shirt, the badge, and to be called “Il Capitano,” a title he is at long last living up to.
Through twelve match days Inter are one of only two undefeated sides in Serie A, (Napoli being the other) already owning victories over three of Italy’s “Top 7.” Spalletti has molded the team into his vision, and everyone is reaping the benefits. At the time of this article Inter sit just two points back of first place in the table and look to be a lock for their first Champions League qualification since 2011. Mauro Icardi is currently second in Serie A in goals scored and is tied for fourth among the top five leagues. His shots on target percentage (74% – 23/31) ranks him as the best among attacking players in those leagues. Icardi finally has the supporting cast and the manager to support his skills which has elevated him to become one of the world’s elite footballers.
Long May He Rule
Where does Maurito go from here? The World Cup in 2018 and to wear the shirt of the nation he calls “home” is on the horizon and will inevitably be the next phase of his career. Before that, his goal remains “to win trophies with Inter.” After years of personal excellence overshadowed by inconsistent team performances, it would appear as though Inter Milan has again found a winning formula, almost a decade after the club earned the title “best in the world.”
Mauro has proven that as an individual player there are few better, if any. Under Luciano Spalletti he has evolved into a complete player, leading by example both on and off the pitch. He is a family man who devotes his free time to his wife and children almost exclusively. He is perhaps the most mentally tough player in the world, having overcome numerous situations in his young career, always coming out stronger on the other end.
At not yet 25 years of age, Mauro Icardi’s future has no limits. He will only continue to improve as both a football player and a human being. What will truly cement his name as one of the greatest to ever play the game will be the day when all of the hard work, overcoming adversity, and personal development comes together. The day when Inter once again lifts the Scudetto. The day when “Inter Milan” is once again engraved onto the Champions League trophy. This is the day when football’s new King of Kings takes a seat on his throne and everyone shall know his name.