BY RYAN PLANT
Covered from head to foot in tattoos, with a shaven haircut only his mother could love and a turbulent relationship with his own fans; Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi is a modern-day enigma that often slips under the radar where the worldâ€™s best strikers are concerned.
Born in Rosario, Argentina, Icardi and his family moved to Spain at the age of six. He played for Vecindario, a small side in Gran Canaria, and reportedly scored over 500 goals for their youth teams in nine years.
His form did not go unnoticed; Europeâ€™s biggest clubs were desperate for Icardi to join their youth setups ahead of the 2008-09 season. After offers from Arsenal and Liverpool in England, Icardi decided to stay on the continent and chose Barcelonaâ€™s famous La Masia academy over the might and wealth of the great Real Madrid.
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In 2011, Icardi was loaned to Sampdoria after deciding he would struggle to progress further than Barcelonaâ€™s under-19 squad. After scoring 13 goals in 19 games for La Sampâ€™s Primavera team, the Italian side exercised an option in the strikerâ€™s loan deal that allowed him to sign permanently for a meagre â‚¬400,000. In the 2011-12 season, Icardi was joint top scorer in the reserve league and was destined for the first team; a chance given to him by then manager, Giuseppe Iachini.
Icardi went on to play a pivotal role in Sampdoriaâ€™s battle against relegation during the 2012-13 season. He scored four goals against Pescara and the winning goal against Juventus in a thrilling encounter that finished 3-2 and all but secured top flight survival. However, all along Icardi had his sights set much higher than a relegation scrap every season â€“ he was not happy beating the best, he wanted to be the best.
And the following summer the Argentine got his dream move to one of the worldâ€™s biggest clubs, Inter Milan. In four seasons at the San Siro he has scored 78 league goals at an average of better than a goal every two games, won the Serie A golden boot for the 2014-15 season and took over as captain from the great Javier Zanetti.
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Icardi scored an incredible 24 league goals in Serie A last season; the same amount as his compatriot Gonzalo Higuain and more than double fellow Argentine Paulo Dybala; so why has he played only eight minutes of international football since October 2013?
Despite often letting his feet do the talking, Icardi is never far away from controversy. He has had high profile spats with former Italy manager Cesare Prandelli, his own fans and a Twitter argument with the great Diego Maradona; these disputes came after an affair with the wife of his Sampdoria teammate, Maxi Lopez.
After marrying the childhood sweetheart of his former strike partner, Wanda Nara, Icardi decided to release a book, â€˜Sempre Avantiâ€™, translated to â€˜Always Aheadâ€™ in English, documenting his beliefs and opinions behind one of Italian footballâ€™s more complex careers. Of course, this did not come without controversy.
Back in the 2014-15 season, after an embarrassing 3-1 defeat to relative minnows Sassuolo, Icardi went over to the Nerazzurri to thank them for their support. He threw his shirt into the crowd, only for it to be tossed back at him by an angry supporter. Most players would try their best to forget about the incident, or at least understand the anger behind one faithful fanâ€™s actions; but not Mauro Icardi.
In his book, Icardi expressed how unmoved he felt after his own fans protested that he left the club, after a poor season by recent standards. Icardi said: â€œHow many of them 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.â€
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Icardi for months was met with echoes of boos from the Ultras of the Curva Nord at the San Siro. His cause was not helped when he missed a penalty and an easy header from only six yards out in a defeat against Cagliari. His own fans booed and whistled, and jeered whenever he got the ball. This came after, only a few weeks previous, Lopez refused to shake the hand of the man who had an affair with his wife when Inter hosted Torino â€“ the â€˜Wanda Derbyâ€™, as it was affectionately known after Lopezâ€™s now ex-wife thanks to Icardi.
How did Icardi respond? The only way he knew how, with an arrogant smile on his face; but this time, in the form of an intimate photo of himself on Instagram.
Why does all of this mean that Icardi still does not get a chance to play for Argentinaâ€™s national side? Maxi Lopezâ€™s best friend is none other than Lionel Messi. He could have played for Italyâ€™s national side instead, but his disagreement with Prandelli put a stop to that.
It is amazing that Icardi thought that it would be a wise idea to attack the people that pay his wages or determine whether he can play for his country or not through a book; and perhaps even weirder that nobody stopped him doing it, and told him that it was a bad idea. But then, would he have listened? With a lion tattooed across his chest, a smile plastered across his face whilst facing a banner calling him a â€œheinous mercenaryâ€ almost every game, Icardi will no doubt go home to his supermodel wife quietly confident ahead of the next Serie A season.
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