Javier Zanetti perhaps did not mean to talk in riddles, but his statement seemed to offer one when asked can Mauro Icardi return against Lazio? “I think we have talked about him too much, now we must focus on the field because it is fundamental for the season finale.” It is true that the headlines have focused on the saga surrounding Icardi, but his return to the Nerazzurri squad also allows gives Luciano Spalletti a significant boost to his arsenal. If used correctly, then Inter could finish the season in impressive style.
As the Milanese start their day, perusing La Gazzetta Dello Sport, they will perhaps roll their eyes at another Icardi headline. This time, ‘Il discorso di Mauro’ the story explaining that Icardi will talk to his team mates explaining his recent actions before he is called up for the squad to face Lazio. These clear the air talks are being fast forwarded by the club, the pink paper says, as Lautaro Martinez, who has been so impressive for club and country of late, is suffering from fatigue.
Whilst one could argue that the return of Inter’s most potent forward could cause disharmony within the group, there is a case with equal gravitas attached to argue the opposite. Inter President Steven Zhang doesn’t normally attend training sessions, but his will is to see the former captain integrate back into the squad with as much ease as possible and his presence will be a sign to the players that this is something the entire club is backing. The game against Lazio this weekend is crucial, as victory could propel the Nerazzurri into a strong Champions League position.
Inter have fared well without Icardi, it is true, since the Argentine’s last game against Parma back in February, the team have won five, drawn two and lost two in all competitions. They have scored 16 times in nine games, which isn’t a bad return for a team missing their top scorer. The absence of Icardi has actually done the team a favour, as they have had to look to others to provide the goal threats and it hasn’t only been Martinez who has stood up to be counted. Matias Vecino, Stefan de Vrij, Matteo Politano, Roberto Gagliardini and Ivan Perisic are just some of the men who have taken on this responsibility.
With Icardi returning, Spalletti will find a team who are fully aware that they can operate without their former captain, but now having the benefit of him as an outlet. There is no doubting the impact Mauro can have. This is a striker who, irrespective of his off-field actions, has nine goals in 18 starts in Serie A this term. He has two in two in the Coppa Italia and four goals in six Champions League games. He is a man who in the previous two campaigns scored 53 times for the Nerazzurri in Serie A. He quite simply is an asset that any team would miss.
So, what next for Inter? Should they manage to get him back on the pitch and scoring goals, then does this constitute as a job well done? In one respect it does, as they have a player who throughout all the debacle has shown that he wants to stay at the club. The whole affair has however, been a PR disaster, with Spalletti, the club, various players and the Icardi camp, treating the rest of Serie A to a car crash soap opera with numerous twists and turns. There is no doubt that they would perhaps handle the entire situation in a different manner if they had to do it again, but the result is still a victory, as they have their ‘hitman’ back.
The fact that the Nerazzurri have managed to strip Icardi of the captaincy, disassociating him with club values is a victory in itself. Cesare Borgia after all, never offered up his assassins as role models for the Papacy. Instead Inter have a player who is arguably one of the world’s deadliest strikers back in their ranks and he is ready to fight for his team again. They can look at the whole sorry mess and at least have the comfort that if this situation cannot break the bond, then what can? Remember the Sassuolo game? The shirt in the crowd? The book? What will it take to break this love-hate relationship up? Perhaps it’s best not to ask. For now, Icardi is back and the rest of Serie A won’t want to face him.