Mauro Icardi has recently been stripped of the Inter captaincy and his future now hangs in the balance.
The Argentinian had held the Nerazzurri armband since 2015 but manager Luciano Spalletti relieved the marksman of his skipper services in favour of stalwart Samir Handanovic earlier this week.
Icardi will see his present deal expire in 2021, but after protracted contract negotiations, involving his agent – and wife – Wanda Nara, the club decided it would be best to pass the captaincy torch to Handanovic. Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta and sports director Piero Ausilio were both present when Icardi was made aware of the club’s decision which, according to Spalletti, he ‘took badly’.
As a result Icardi withdrew from the Europa League squad against Rapid Vienna on Thursday, and according to Italian news outlet FedeNerazzurra, he has been eating by himself at the club’s training complex. The two-time Capocannoniere winner has since posted a cryptic Instagram message throwing further doubt on his future.
And so, with tensions spilling over, relationships appearing fractious and uncertainty surrounding his future, Icardi could be set for the exit door this summer, but where could he end up?
Ernesto Valverde has made no secret of his desire to sign a centre-forward since Munir El Haddadi parted company last month.
The Catalan club shocked the football world when they secured the services of Kevin-Prince Boateng in January, with the former Spurs forward taking his peripatetic European journey to the unlikeliest of destinations – the Camp Nou.
Suffice to say, the 31-year-old is probably not seen as the long-term successor to an ageing Luis Suarez, and it remains precarious whether Barca will make his signing permanent from Sassuolo. With that, Valverde will likely be in the market for a No. 9 in the summer, and it would be a fairytale story were Icardi to join the club he left eight years ago.
The 24-year-old made the audacious decision to leave the esteemed La Masia academy during his formative years, joining Sampdoria in 2011 as a prodigiously talented teenager.
He has since flourished away from Spain but has unfinished business with the Blaugrana; he would be the perfect player to step into the shoes of South American compatriot Suarez.
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Every transfer window Icardi seems to be linked with a big-money move to Los Blancos, and amid his current contract situation in Milan, those rumours will only intensify.
There remains a discernible void left by Cristiano Ronaldo – who left for Juventus last summer – and the current European champions could be tempted to splash some significant funds in the summer.
Whether Real will go all out Galactico hunting this summer or just recruit one marquee signing – ahem Eden Hazard – remains to be seen, but with the resurgence of Karim Benzema, the club are not in desperate need of a striker.
Florentino Perez has always been a big fan of Benzema, recently calling him the “best forward in the world”, so it looks unlikely Icardi will relocate to the Spanish capital anytime soon, but the Frenchman is entering his twilight years, and Perez has a penchant for a statement signing – watch this space.
Chelsea have had a real mixed bag over the years, in terms of centre forwards, but their recent crop have been abysmal; Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud are not seen as long-term options.
Gonzalo Higuain has come in, but with a somewhat substandard stint at AC Milan and having just turned 31, the Blues will likely want a fresh outlook in the final third next term.
Chelsea’s potential move for Icardi may very well depend on the man in charge come the summer, but should Maurizio Sarri remain at the helm, then he will certainly be looking at potential No. 9 suitors.
Icardi is an assassin in front of goal and has rightly fulfilled his ‘fox in the box’ moniker; he would solve Chelsea’s woes up front and prove a much more prolific striker than the often goal shy Morata.
The Old Lady were reportedly interested in signing Icardi last summer, but hesitated on a move after going all out on bringing Cristiano Ronaldo to Turin.
Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici stated that the signing of Icardi from a rival club would have “led to a major drama”, but the Serie A champions could be set to revisit their fervent interest.
According to Italian journalist Valter De Maggio “Icardi already has an agreement with Juventus”, which would all but end Higuain’s future at the club and no doubt make Icardi a villain with Inter fans.
Massimiliano Allegri has predominantly been utilising Ronaldo through the middle, but he may be tempted to push the Portuguese back out to his natural wide position and have Icardi spearheading his attack.
Icardi reportedly has a £100m buyout clause which may deter a number of potential suitors, but one such club who would have no problem matching that fee is the Parisians.
The French giants already have a squad replete with world-class talent, but with Edinson Cavani enjoying his 32nd birthday earlier this week and having just 18 months left on his contract, PSG may have Icardi in their crosshairs.
Make no mistake about it, the Uruguayan is in the form of his life, but Thomas Tuchel is a progressive manager and will already have plans for the future, particularly in regards to which player could fill the boots of Cavani.
Kylian Mbappe and Neymar will need a player who compliments their game and best accentuates their assets. In Icardi they will have one of the finest finishers in Europe – a lethal poacher who instinctively knows where the back of the net is.
Los Colchoneros are not blessed with the same spending power as some of the names being mentioned, but they have had serious goalscoring issues this season and are in dire need of a conventional striker.
One factor that could work in Atleti’s favour is Diego Simeone, an Argentine compatriot of Icardi who possesses a father-like aura and charm that could help sway the striker’s decision.
The fact that Simeone has been able to keep Antoine Griezmann at the club amid Barcelona interest, and bring back the notoriously arduous Diego Costa, says a lot about his character.
With that said, Costa is enduring a prolonged run of poor form and Nikola Kalinic remains a bizarre signing, so the acquisition of Icardi will go a long way to alleviating that frustration.
Icardi’s next move should be to a club with stability, and while Chelsea appear a viable option, Sarri is not guaranteed to be there come the end of the season.
Meanwhile Valverde has recently put pen-to-paper on a new contract at the Camp Nou and will have just one available first-team striker come the summer – albeit in the form of Suarez.
However, there is something quite romantic about Icardi returning to the club where it didn’t quite work out for him; he returned with Inter in the Champions League earlier in the campaign, but failed to leave a lasting impression.
Lionel Messi will likely have some say in the club’s long-term successor to Suarez, and having featured alongside Icardi at international level – albeit very briefly – he may want a reunion in club football.
Icardi would bring a new dimension to Barca’s game, offering exceptional hold-up play, brilliant positional awareness, and a proficient link-up ability – he would certainly prove a much more astute signing than Boateng, and could become a Barca legend.