Five years after it happened, Mauro Icardi is still more famous for his love triangle with Wanda Nara and Maxi Lopez than he is for his impact on the pitch. Yet in the five seasons since becoming involved with the wife of his ex-team-mate, the Inter captain has scored 111 goals in just 178 appearances.
He has finished as Serie A’s leading scorer in two of those campaigns, most recently taking the honour last term when he was also named Italian football’s player of the year and won goal of the season for his gorgeous backheel flick against Sampdoria.
He has finally been given a chance at international level too, after years spent in the shadows of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala. New Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni has handed him a regular place in his starting XI, a decision vindicated when Icardi bagged his first goal for the Albiceleste against Mexico in November (after only 71 seconds, no less). “He’s incredible,” said the coach after that maiden strike. “He’s someone who scores a lot and helps the team; he feels comfortable now because we trust him.”
It may come as a surprise to learn that Icardi is still only 25. But already he has blossomed into one of Europe’s deadliest and most prolific strikers; one who fired Inter back into the Champions League – if not keep them there – and has slowly helped the Nerazzurri become their old selves again. Best of all, he’s enjoying himself.
“I’m very happy with how my 2018 has gone,” he said at an awards event in December. “My first goals in the Champions League gave me indescribable emotions, and I’d been waiting such a long time for my first goal with the Seleccion. That came too, so I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
But there is undoubtedly much left for him to accomplish. While the individual accolades have piled up, he hasn’t yet lifted a trophy as a professional and it remains to be seen whether he will need to leave Inter to do so.
Real Madrid have sent scouts to watch him over the past few months as they look to end their post-Ronaldo slump, and Icardi himself told Radio Onda Cero recently that “when offers will come we’ll evaluate them”. Los Blancos will have surely liked what they’ve seen.
“There’s too much talk of how much I do or don’t participate in the team play, which many say isn’t very much, but I don’t care what the critics say,” Icardi said in a recent interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “I only know one way to help my team-mates and that’s to put the ball in the back of the net.”
His strike rate makes that an undeniable truth that one day might even overshadow that aforementioned love triangle.