For those that saw Diego Maradona’s star finally fade under the blue Italian sky in Italia 90, this may be a little easier to comprehend. For those have been brought up only seeing the mesmerising skill set of Lionel Messi, then prepare yourself. It’s coming to an end, he won’t be around for ever. The fact that these two players have graced four decades for Argentina is a miracle, this talent is rare. In between, the South American nation have been blessed with the likes of Gabriel Batistuta to ‘get by on’, so knowing all of this, how on earth can Mauro Icardi not be an option for his national team?
The Elephant in the Argentine dressing room (re the Icardi issue) has been here so long that it is almost being called up to sit on the bench, so let’s address it. Whilst at Sampdoria, Icardi played alongside Maxi Lopez, another Argentinian. Rumours circled Lopez had cheated on his wife (Wanda) and the apparently wounded wife decided to choose the more proficient striker for her partner. He subsequently moved to Inter and the two have married, had children and lived out their lives through the means of Instagram. I think that covers it.
Whilst various media outlets will tell you all the details of this ‘situation’, one thing should be made abundantly clear: Icardi is a lethal and prolific goalscorer that even at the tender age of 23 has already notched 62 goals for Inter in only 111 appearances. Above all, he is a forward that Argentina do not currently have.
Nobody is Messi, so best to end that where it started. Gonzalo Higuain, whilst also prolific in Serie A, is a different entity. He is barrel-chested, powerful and capable of the spectacular whilst at the same time he is reliably powerful and efficient. Sergio Aguero often makes you think that he is what Ariel Ortega should have been and is skilful, graceful and sublime, yet still has the fight and tenacity of a street urchin.
However, even if you class these three strikers as a level above Icardi, they have nobody younger than 28 years of age.
So what of the younger generation? Is the Nerazzurri hitman a worse option than Atletico Madrid’s Angel Correa or Atletico Mineiro’s Lucas Pratto? Paulo Dybala should also be included in this superlative list and is perhaps Icardi’s direct competitor, as Carlos Tevez is resigned to the history books and Lucas Alario and Lautaro Acosta don’t yet warrant even talking about in the same breath as Icardi.
Inter’s Number 9 is just that, he is a traditional striker whose movement is as important as his finishing. Let’s not forget his most prolific season was achieved in one of the Nerazzurri’s most abject of campaigns. Imagine what he could do with the creativity of the Argentine national squad behind him.
With this being the case, it seems bizarre that more than one national team Coach has shunned him. ‘Tata’ Martino cited his relationship issues as the reason he left him out of the 2016 Copa America squad. "I always deal in black and white, but over the years I have learned to see some grey area," said Martino. "But regarding the subject of Icardi, we all know what is right and what is wrong. The problem with the media is that they also want me to say things the way they are thinking them and I aspire to do the exact opposite. But on my side, everything is clear.”
Yet Icardi missed out. The striker retorted by blaming the Argentine media for focusing only on his relationship, whilst stating that in Italy he is seen mainly for his footballing attributes and recommending his Coach changes newspaper.
Perhaps things would be different with new Coach Edgardo Bauza? He said at first he would call up Icardi, yet he made it clear that the Number 9 spot belongs to Higuain and his close relationship with Pratto meant that the 23-year-old would now only see action if “anything happened to the other two.” New words it seemed, but the same actions.
With rumours rife that it is the Argentinian public and players who simply don’t want him in the dressing room for his code of conduct surrounding Maxi Lopez, it seems his wait will continue. Whilst their loyalty may be applauded in some cases, their old school male pride may in fact hurt the team long term. It’s also patently ridiculous to continue punishing a couple who now have two children of their own and are settled down. If we’ve learned anything about Wanda, it’s that she’s a strong woman who knows her own mind and could not be ‘stolen’ from her ex-husband without wanting to leave.
Argentina were lucky that Maradona and Messi came so close together and even more fortunate that Batistuta bridged the gap. The next Messi is unlikely to come around again and even more unlikely that he will have the same nationality.
Icardi will never be in that league, but he is the next best thing and they would be remiss to ignore this.