Does Lautaro Martinez render Mauro Icardi expendable at Inter?
Background Image: Oscar Federico Bodini, CC by 2.0
If Mauro Icardi is a Chris Brown fan, he'll be humming 'Don't wake me up'. Everything changed for the Argentine forward last week after his wife and agent made provocative comments about the squad.
- Inter stripped him of the captain's armband.
- He made himself unavailable.
- The team went to Vienna and defeated Rapid Wien in the Europa League R32 without him.
- Then they knocked off Sampdoria while he watched from the stands.
Although manager Luciano Spalletti claims he wants Icardi back in the squad, it looks like there might be no way back for the 25-year-old Serie A and Nerazzurri centurion. And that should be fine with Inter.
Icardi's current travails date back to January when he was offered a contract extension. Although tied for three years, Luciano Spalletti was eager to hold on to his talisman beyond the current deal. The Argentine forward held out for twice his current earnings, which would have lifted him into the ranks of the games highest paid stars.
Inter remained resolute. So did Senor y Senora Icardi. After a protracted impasse, Wanda Nara took to the media to suggest the club didn't support her client and husband sufficiently and called out certain members of the squad for undermining his leadership. The two names at the fore were Ivan Perisic and Radja Nainggolan. Perisic confronted Icardi about the remarks. The club took the Croatian's side, transferring the captaincy to goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. Icardi took his ball and went home. The club didn't seem to mind, either in the boardroom or on the pitch.
The entire episode is absurd. Icardi has been a loyal servant since joining from Sampdoria in 2013. He's developed into an elite poacher, capturing the Capocannoniere twice. Although he does not support, drop deep, or act as a modern striker, the 26-year-old is impossible to stop inside the box.
Goals aside, Icardi doesn't help himself. He cursed out Inter fans on one occasion and repeatedly shows off his substantial ego. During a painful defeat to Sassuolo in 2015, he threw his jersey to fans who promptly returned it. His incendiary autobiography, released in 2016, in which he threatened to “bring 100 criminals from Argentina” to kill those who had menaced him hasn't been forgiven. Possibly less so because he didn't follow through on the threat.
Getting rid of the Argentine in the summer might not just relieve tensions. It may be a shrewd move. Icardi is clearly unhappy. Real Madrid and Juventus are reportedly interested. Transfermarkt values him at £100 million. That much money never sulked or insulted the customers. In addition, the blue half of Milan have another precocious Argentine poacher waiting in the wings.
Lautaro Martinez could be Inter's next messiah. The 22-year-old struck the winner against Rapid Wien while Icardi and Nara nibbled cantucci and sipped vin santo. He delivered another strong performance against Sampdoria on Sunday. Martinez finished six times this season. He provides greater movement and contribution to build-up, albeit with a less consistent presence inside the box. His diminutive frame and low centre of gravity draw comparisons to Sergio Aguero although the Bahia Blanca native doesn't exhibit the same supernatural close control.
Lautaro has a good head on his shoulders, demonstrating the humility and will to improve. Gifted with pace, guile and the acceleration to glide past opponents, he doesn't shy away from aerial duels despite standing just 5' 7". He wins 1.5 per 90 on average.
Icardi's holdout isn't doing anyone any favours. He needs the club more than they need him. His game is only suited to a system that lets him poach. He has nothing more to offer. The Argentine delivered the fewest pass per game (13.5) of any Serie A attacking player last term. Inter have been forced to fling crosses to the box just for his pleasure. They are second-top in all of Europe at the practice, trailing only Real Madrid.
Starving for goals without Cristiano Ronaldo, the Merengues will only be too happy to have Icardi on the end of their ridiculous 21 crosses per game. Inter should strike a deal with the Bernabeu mob, allow Icardi to talk terms with them and wipe their hands of the whole situation.