“In football, as in life, one must be honest and understanding when things end and, with Inter, its over” - Joao Mario speaking to Gazzetta Dello Sport, June 2018.
In some part of their career, most footballers perhaps feel they have to atone for. Something, whether it be a mistake on the field or perhaps off it. Many are minor issues, a misplaced pass or a gesture to the fans, often quickly forgotten about. Even the major, on-field errors, should perhaps be forgiven. after all, Loris Karius didn’t mean to have that performance against Read Madrid. For Joao Mario and Inter though, it has been a little more difficult, if for no other reason, than the decisiveness of the players comments.
"I don’t want to try again, I don’t have the necessary motivation, it’s an experience that’s over, no doubt. I’m just honest, there’s no fire inside me to rekindle with the Nerazzurri. The Portuguese midfielder bemoaned. He had, on arrival, been touted as being the solution to Inter’s creative problem, the missing piece in the puzzle but a lack of playing time and a loan move to West Ham prompted this outburst to the pink paper. “When I arrived, I was fired-up for a project which seemed to be taking off, too bad it didn’t go that way. Who is to blame? Everyone and no-one. Inter and the environment there, probably all of Italian football, is not for me.”
It was no surprise as the season started and the Portuguese midfielder realised he had no takers, that remorse perhaps set in. The situation had fallen become untenable but the frustration from both parties was that it should never have been this way. Former Barcelona midfielder Deco had once heaped praise on the now 25-year-old, saying that he could play for any team in the world, as his versatility was his biggest asset.
This had been a well-structured argument, as when he started at Porto in the youth ranks, it was at centre-back. He moved to Sporting CP and developed as a midfielder but saw time playing as a winger and as a full back. This flexibility saw Inter eventually swoop for him but it was here that the problem first became apparent. Due to his flexibility and Inter’s lack of focus as the time, both Frank de Boer and Stefano Pioli spent a season trying to fit him in anywhere from midfield to supporting striker.
Luciano Spalletti’s arrival saw a chink of light as the new coach immediately noticed that Mario could play behind the striker in a trequartista role. Joao Mario seemed disillusioned though, and was shipped out to West Ham on loan.
After a relatively uneventful spell in England, the 25-year-old returned assuming he would leave in the summer, but alas there were no takers - mild Turkish interest aside - so Joao Mario was stuck in Milan. After working hard in training (and a ‘fortunate’ injury to Radja Nainggolan) he once again got a chance against Lazio and performed admirably before getting two assists and being one of the players of the match against Genoa.
The ex-Sporting man explained after the Genoa game that, after the transfer window shut, he had committed himself to Inter and getting back in the team. He was relived and proud to get applauded again by the fans. This redemption is something that he has had to work for and now that he has shown that he is focused he seems to have been forgiven. He even claimed that sometimes his body language offers a misleading interpretation on his mood, but now he can be considered an important part of the Nerazzurri midfield, and a potential replacement for Nainggolan when needed.
Inter’s Curva Nord have forgiven players before. Look no further than Mauro Icardi for reference to that. Joao Mario is also still young and could prove to fulfil his potential yet. If he keeps performing then the fans will continue to applaud and perhaps there is a real argument to say that he has matured over the last few months. So, it comes to be that one of Inter’s prodigal sons has returned (the gospel of ‘Gabigol’ is inconclusive) and it goes to show that what really matters to football fans is simply how their players perform on the pitch.