Mauro Icardi: From Villain to Hero

When a player scores three goals in the “Derby of Milan,” he becomes part of an elite group in soccer. If that player is also the captain of Inter Milan who two years ago was on a verge of being “lynched” by his fans, the feeling becomes even more special.

Mauro Icardi stole the spotlight on October 15, 2017, when he scored his first hattrick in the Derby, considered by many one the most historic rivalries in soccer. Even if you’re immediately wondering why his fans were ready to get rid of his captain, let’s talk first about his unique life story.

 

The Beginnings

He was born on February 19, 1993, in Rosario, Argentina. Starting at five years old, he has had only one thought in mind: Soccer. He started to kick the ball around in his native country, but his family was forced to move to Las Palmas, Spain, due to a terrible economic recession in Argentina. Here, Icardi joined the Las Palmas’ Union Deportiva Vecindario, a small team in the Canary Islands, and scored over 500 goals in seven seasons. Just to be clear, this is not a typo and the number “500” is correct…

With all those goals, rumors started to circulate about his talent and the most prestigious soccer clubs in Europe placed their eyes on him. However, his decision became relatively easy; Barcelona’s Cantera was waiting for him with open arms, ready to transform a young talented kid into a complete striker.

The Icardi family moved to Barcelona and the new journey began for the Argentinian star at only 15 years of age. In a few seasons, he perfected his technique and scored less than forty goals. Unfortunately, it was not enough to convince Pep Guardiola and Icardi was compelled to leave Barcelona. Direction? A small team in the Italian second division called Sampdoria.

Icardi took a chance with this move. It takes some personality to go from a star in the Cantera to a second division team in Italy, which might not even get promoted. One bad season could have jeopardized his entire career. Instead, Icardi reached the promotion, debuted in Serie A the following year and, ultimately, scored 10 goals in 31 matches.

Once again, all the most prominent clubs in Europe put their eyes on him. Inter Milan ultimately won the race and paid €13 million for him. In his first season with the team, Icardi scored 12 goals in 22 matches. He then exploded during his second season when he recorded 22 goals, becoming the top scorer of Seria A at just 22. However, his success on the field was overshadowed by his scandals with his current wife, Wanda Nara, and Inter die-hard supporters.

 

9th Commandment: “You Shall Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Wife”

The first giant “mess” occurred when Wanda, who was married at that point, started to text him. Messaging a married woman with three kids can only lead to troubles, but it’s even worse when she is married with your best friend and teammate.

According to The Sun, the love story escalated quickly from their initial texts where Wanda simply asked Icardi to buy her a new iPad in the United States. After keeping their feelings in the shadow for many months, the Argentinian striker declared his love for Wanda on Twitter as her marriage with Maxi Lopez fell apart in 2013:

“I love you [Wanda Nara], it will never be easy to say what I feel, because I discovered that those two words (‘I love you’ = ‘te amo’ in Spanish) carry with them one feeling without limits!” per The Daily Mail.

That was not the end of the story; it was just the beginning of the soap opera “Icardi, Wanda, Maxi Lopez.” Obviously, the relationship between Icardi and Maxi Lopez ended immediately, but media throughout the world were waiting for their first official encounter on the field in Serie A, wondering how Maxi Lopez would have reacted. The two faced off in the so called “Wanda Derby” in April 2014 where Maxi refused to shake Icardi’s hand and, instead, grabbed his crotch.

In response to that gesture, Icardi added fuel to the fire after the game saying, “Unfortunately these things happen, it depends on the ignorance of certain people. I gave my hand, I am polite,” via The Mirror. Later in November 2014, he then tattooed the former couple’s children on his arm and tweeted “I love these three little angels.”

The controversy became so exponential that even a legend like Diego Armando Maradona suddenly decided to get involved. “Icardi is a traitor,” Maradona told Canale 5. “He can’t go to dinner with his teammates then get married to the wife of his friend. He’ll pay for what he did to Maxi Lopez.”

 

Lesson Learned: Never Disrespect Your Fans

While the Icardi-Wanda turmoil was blowing out of proportion, Icardi himself fell into another and ever deeper controversy with Inter Milan ultras.

In order to understand the gravity of the situation, it’s necessary to explain the role of ultras in European soccer. The ultras culture in Europe is a sort of “soccer religion.” Die-hard fans not only support their teams with chants, banners and stunning choreographies, but they also showed up for practices and are heavily involved with the organization.

Although they don’t always have the power to influence very crucial decisions, their voice doesn’t go unnoticed.

One of the most famous examples took place in 2009 on the other side of the city of Milan, the Rossoneri. When the club communicated that was going to sell Kakà, its best player at the moment, over 300 ultras protested in front of Milan’s front office with chants “Kakà is not on sale” and “if you sell Kakà, you’ll pay for it.”

According to Gazzetta.it, Giancarlo Capelli, a leader of the Curva Sud ultras movement, was leading the protest after receiving a phone call from Kakà. The Milan offensive midfielder told Capelli the club abandoned him and was very disappointed by its decision – Capelli even showed the reporter the call on his phone. Pretty crazy, but that’s exactly the power of the ultras movement in European soccer.

Now, let’s get back to Mauro Icardi and what happened with Inter ultras.

In his autobiography, Icardi wrote that he was insulted and abused after Inter’s 3-1 defeat against Sassuolo on February 1, 2015. While the heated argument between him and the ultras was breaking out in the post-game, a kid asked for his jersey and Icardi gave it to him. By the time the kid had the jersey in his hands and started smiling, a hard-core leader grabbed the jersey and threw it back at Icardi. More insults occurred between them and Icardi wanted to send a strong message to his fans in his autobiography. “I’ll bring 100 criminals from Argentina who’ll kill them where they stand, then we’ll see,” Icardi wrote in his book Sempre Avanti.

Needless to say, those harsh words gave rise to a series of protests without precedent. In his first home game after the book was released, fans cheered once he missed a penalty for Inter and expressed their disappointment in a banner “100 goals and 100 trophies will never delete the vile piece of **** you are” – crazy considering that hundreds of kids were at the stadium!

Then, fans went on and attacked their captain even more with statements like, “You are finished with us. You’re done. Take the armband off, you clown. Yes, that is what we demand,” per The Independent. The club immediately got involved, discussing the removal of his captaincy and a possible trade in the upcoming transfer window.

Icardi ended up staying with the club and playing as a captain for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but the tension between him and the Curva Nord was clearly evident. In the beginning of this season, the ultras circulated a flyer “No chants for Icardi… When the speaker announces the starting lineup, don’t scream the name of that infame Argentinian,” via Spazio Inter.

 

It only took one night…

The breakup appeared imminent, but it took one night to change everything. And that night was exactly the Derby this past October. After his third goal, Icardi celebrated by taking his jersey off and showing it to the fans, similar to what Leo Messi did against Real Madrid to declare his love for Barcelona. Just three goals and a simple gesture transformed a villain into a hero once again.

Although Icardi had a troublesome life and had to overcome heavy media pressure, his perseverance helped him to emerge as one of the youngest and most prolific strikers in Europe.

This year, the Inter captain scored 16 goals in 15 matches, propelling his team to a first place in Serie A. His wife Wanda continues to stand by his side in his personal life (she’s currently pregnant with their second children) and professional career; in fact, she also became his agent and negotiated a very lucrative contract with Inter until 2021. According to Sport Mediaset, Inter will pay Icardi €4.9 million per year plus bonuses, such as €200,000 for every ten goals; however, the club secured his Argentinian talent with a €110 million release clause.

Following the “treaty of peace” between him and the fans, Icardi seems to have finally found the calm after the storm, which makes his future look even brighter.

A graduate of Farmingdale State College with a B.S. in Sports Management and current second-year student at Touro Law Center. Born and raised in Varese, Italy. DIII soccer and golf player. 360-degree sports fan with a burning passion for soccer and basketball.