A storming 2013 so far has seen Mauro Icardi become a wanted man. But, asks Antonio Labbate, is his price-tag justified?
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini was there. Argentina tactician Alejandro Sabella was present too. They weren’t alone either. The reason behind their trip to Marassi on Sunday? Mauro Icardi, the young striker who has become one of the hottest properties in the Italian game after a goal-packed start to 2013.
For 75 minutes, Icardi was pretty anonymous at the Ferraris. Isolated by his teammates in the first half of the match against Roma, the 19-year-old ensured victory with his only real effort of the game. Rising above Daniele De Rossi at the near post, he headed home a sublime in-swinging corner to make it 3-1.
It was Icardi’s eighth League goal of the campaign, but, significantly, his seventh since January 6. Two days later and the Gazzetta dello Sport led with the news that Icardi would be heading to Inter at the end of the season for €15m. That alleged deal was subsequently denied by Doria official Rinaldo Sagramola, but it’s no secret that the centre-forward’s future will be outside of Genoa.
Napoli have admitted that they tried and failed to land the striker in January, while Inter’s keenness has been confirmed. The transfer fee cited by the Gazzetta also seems to be around the figure that will be required given that the Azzurri are believed to have offered €5m for a half-share in him, and €12m for his whole contract, last month.
While Icardi clearly has promise, his current market valuation is generous and primarily based on his form over a six-week period. While his scoring stats of eight goals in just 18 League games seem impressive, they don’t look so phenomenal when you break them down. After all, he’s only scored in four games.
Having marked his first League start in the Week 13 derby win over Genoa with his first Serie A goal, Icardi didn’t celebrate again until Week 19 and the trip to Juventus. It was an afternoon where he truly announced himself to the Italian top flight and he was rightly rewarded with the headlines after scoring a brace in 10-man Sampdoria’s 2-1 victory in Turin.
What was less impressive about those strikes were the fact that Juve ‘keeper Gigi Buffon openly admitted that he should have kept out the first and possibly done better with the second. “I don’t usually make those kind of mistakes,” the custodian noted when asked about the effort which made it 1-1. “I messed up because I was still backpedalling when the shot was taken. Let’s say that Icardi should thank me for that one.”
Mauro made sure he was again noticed the next time he rippled a top-flight net. On an emotional afternoon at Marassi just days after President Riccardo Garrone lost his battle against illness, Icardi became the fifth youngest player in Serie A history to grab four goals in a game. Again, a fine achievement, but let’s not forget that Pescara, their opponents that day in the 6-0 thrashing, have the leakiest defence in the Division.
The highlighting of an afternoon’s deficiencies by Buffon and Pescara is not to belittle Icardi as a player, but merely to highlight the fact that, at times, Italian football lacks balance.
It seems absurd that a player who cost Sampdoria €400,000 in July 2011 is now said to be worth almost 40 times that amount. What is even more staggering is that there are Italian clubs, in these difficult economic times, who seem willing to pay that. And if you can raise your eyebrow any higher, one of those is Inter who have just committed to spending an initial €11m on 18-year-old Mateo Kovacic in January.
While on one hand you can praise the Nerazzurri for looking towards the future, it’s clear that Icardi is no finished product and would be somewhat of a gamble. In footballing terms, he’s proved nothing yet. Absolutely nothing. What is in his favour right now is the kind of media hype which surrounded Mattia Destro – remember him? – given his goals at Siena in the second half of last season.
Icardi is undoubtedly one to watch. His impressive scoring record as a kid saw him catch the eye of Barcelona. His brief, very brief, Serie A showings so far have also attracted Italy boss Cesare Prandelli who has openly admitted to speaking to him about an international career with the Azzurri and not his native Argentina. While his agent has been doing his best to big-up the boy by comparing him to Gabriel Batistuta.
Icardi could very well become the latest Argentine sensation in front of goal, but, for now, he isn’t. Today he’s just a kid with the rawest of potential. As for tomorrow, it looks like it will take around €15m to find out…