Ever since late winter, I have periodically suffered from severe heartburn completely unrelated to my persistent acid reflux. Such episodes tend to be induced whenever the words “Mauro Icardi” and “Juventus” are used in the same sentence of a transfer rumor.
Reports linking Juve with the Argentine striker have served as clickbait over several transfer windows as Inter tried to stabilize their club, but they have become more and more earnest since February. That was when Icardi was abruptly stripped of the captaincy, which he had held for 3 1⁄2 years. He spent almost the next two months on the sidelines — ostensibly because of a knee injury, but let’s not pretend we’re stupid.
In the five months since, reports of Icardi making his way from Milan to Turin have come in fits and starts, with heavy speculation followed by some periods that distance the two. That ebb and flow is why you’re not reading this article now, and not a few weeks ago, after the links had cooled down a bit. But now, with Icardi obviously out of the plans of Antonio Conte at San Siro and, according to some reports, Juve Director of Football Fabio Paratici flew out to Ibiza to meet with Icardi and his wife/agent, Wanda Nara, about a deal, this one’s back on my mind.
Let’s not mince any words here: Juventus should not sign Mauro Icardi under any circumstances.
This has nothing to do with his talent. He is fantastically good at putting the ball into the goal — he’s scored 134 goals in 251 first-team games between Sampdoria and Inter since getting his debut with the Blucerchiati in Serie B in in 2012. He’s been a massive thorn in Juve’s side, developing a special knack for scoring against the Bianconeri.
But Icardi is also a cancerous human being. On a team that is still in transition and in the middle of developing a new generation of leaders, having Icardi — and Nara — in the fold has every chance of producing the same kind of drama that is ending his time at Inter now.
For those of you who somehow missed it, a quick rehash of what first made Icardi quite so odious. During his days at Sampdoria, who had purchased him out of Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy in 2011, he was teammates with fellow Argentine striker Maxi Lopez. At the time, Lopez was married to Nara, Towards the end of the 2012-13 season, it came out that Nara and Icardi had been having an affair. Things got ugly very quickly, with Icardi making the particularly despicable choice of parading Lopez’s three children with Nara around on his social media accounts as seemingly deliberate taunts. The two married shortly after Nara’s divorce from Lopez was finalized.
It’s baffling to think that someone in Inter’s headquarters took all that in two years later and said “Captain material!”
Icardi’s time as Inter’s skipper has not been without incident. A year after being given the armband, he released an autobiography that recounted his version of a heated exchange between himself and Inter ultras following a 3-1 away loss to Sassuolo. The self-aggrandizement of the passage was mind-blowing. He depicts himself as being greeted like a hero by his teammates when he arrived in the locker room, and brushed off the concerns of team officials who wondered if certain ultras would wait by his house to confront him. Pumping up the roughness of the neighborhood he grew up in, Icardi brushed off this fear, writing, “How 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.”
Predictably, the ultras were none too thrilled about this. Banners in the stadium called for his captaincy, and one in front of his home that ominously told him to alert its makers when his “Argentinian friends” arrived. Eventually the team pressed him to remove the passage from the book.
It’s small wonder, then, how swiftly and completely the Inter fan base turned on him after his petulant reaction to being stripped of the captaincy in February. It hadn’t helped that his wife, who had become his agent in the years since, had spent the season up to that point negotiating a potential contract extension through the media and publicly criticizing his teammates through her position as a talking head on the popular Mediaset program Tiki Taka (although what exactly qualifies her for such a role other than being good looking and married to one of the most controversial players in the league is difficult to determine).
The dispute between the team and the Icardis took on almost comical levels of drama. Icardi claimed a knee injury, despite Inter’s medical staff deeming him completely fit after an examination, allegedly telling then-coach Luciano Spalletti “I’ll tell you when I’m ready to play.” He demanded the club publicly rehabilitate his image. The soap opera reached a crescendo when Beppe Marotta, newly hired as a director at Inter, called in to Tiki Taka and spoke directly to a tearful Nara offering support after a group of ultras threw projectiles at a car that she was driving with her children inside — an absolute no under all circumstances, obviously.
Taking into account all this and whatever else Icardi has done over his controversial career in Serie A, is having a built-in distraction in the locker room worth what he might do on the field? Would Icardi be able to fit into the team without ruffling feathers? Would a locker room that has lost a ton of leadership in recent years be able to get past any ruckus that Nara might raise on television, or if Icardi decides to puff himself up in front of the Curva Sud — or Cristiano Ronaldo, for that matter? You’ve also got a first-year coach coming in — and one whose communication skills are not his strongest suit. Any potential dust-up early in the season while the team is still learning Maurizio Sarri’s ways could set back the full implementation of his designs.
Even beyond that, would Icardi be actually be a tactical fit right now? All signs in the early days point to Sarri using either Ronaldo as a prima punta or Paulo Dybala as a false nine in a 4-3-3, with Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa factoring in heavily. How would bringing in Icardi affect that arrangement? What effect would he have on the continuing development of Moise Kean, whose playing time would likely be severely curtailed?
But even if Sarri has an idea for all of that, the off-field issues he brings are too much to ignore. Icardi and Nara are a distraction waiting to happen, and with only three years left on Ronaldo’s contract and no way of knowing when Father Time will show up to crack him across the face, as he does to all athletes, is it worth taking the risk that an another Icardi blowup might affect the team’s quest for the Cup With the Big Ears? This writer says no.
Hopefully, the front office will come to that conclusion as well. Or someone like Aurelio De Laurentiis could swoop in and make all this a moot point.
Help a brother out, Aurelio. He’d look great in Naples.