MILAN (Reuters) – Having passed one landmark on Tuesday by scoring his first goal for Argentina, Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi is set to reach another on Saturday by making his 200th appearance in Serie A.
It has been something of a bumpy ride for the 25-year-old, with an exposed private life and a falling-out with the fans along the way, but he is now recognised as one of the Italian league’s most deadly strikers.
Third in Serie A, Inter host Frosinone when they hope to get their campaign back on the rails following a shock 4-1 defeat by Atalanta in their last outing.
Inter’s leading scorer for the past four seasons, Icardi has played under three different owners and seven coaches since joining them from Sampdoria in 2013.
An out-and-out centre forward, he is deadly in the penalty area although his contribution in other areas of the pitch is sometimes questioned.
Like Lionel Messi, he was born in the Argentine city of Rosario and also trained at Barcelona’s La Masia academy. Unlike Messi, he did not make it into their first team and left in 2011 for Sampdoria who were in the Italian second tier at the time.
Despite twice finished as Serie A’s joint scorer with Inter, there is often a feeling that he is still not quite playing to his full potential.
“Mauro has very precise characteristics,” said Inter coach Luciano Spalletti recently.
“When it comes to finishing, he has no weaknesses, he’s perfect. In the penalty area, he is an animal. However, there are times when perhaps he needs to come back more to help get us out of difficult situations.”
“A few seconds of talent are enough to be a top footballer, but to be a champion it takes 95 minutes of personality,” added Spalletti.
Icardi has often provided fodder for the gossip columns as well as the sports pages thanks to his marriage to Argentine media personality Wanda Nara, who was previously married to Icardi’s former team mate Maxi Lopez.
He also fell out with Inter’s hard core fans over an account of an argument with supporters in his autobiography in 2016.
Curva Nord ultras responded that “Icardi is not our captain, not now or ever” and applauded when he missed a penalty in Inter’s next game. However, that episode has been forgotten.
His international career has been a story of frustration. Having played a single game for Argentina in 2013, he was recalled for some of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers but left out of the squad for the tournament in Russia itself.
He has finally been earning regular call-ups under new coach Lionel Scaloni and scored his first goal for them in Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Mexico.
Yet, even now, he has found himself in the middle of a heated debate, this time thanks to his post-match comments which appeared to be aimed at members of the World Cup squad.
“When I played for the national team before, I didn’t feel the same as I do now,” he said.
“There wasn’t so much companionship or friendship. We are all young. Before, with the experienced players, we didn’t have this feeling.”
Veteran goalkeeper Sergio Romero was not impressed. “I was one of those he was talking about,” he said. “It’s a shame he saw it that way.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge)