Not for the first time, fans of Inter were given a window into Mauro Icardi’s life by his wife last week. Wanda Icardi posted a series of videos on Instagram showing her husband to be enjoying a very happy 26th birthday.
Sitting with friends and family having eaten at an ornately decorated restaurant, he opened present after present. There were leather boots, a specially engraved knife, a bottle of Pommery champagne with his name on the label, and finally a big white box which contained a new puppy. Dozens of golden balloons hugged the ceiling.
It looked to be an evening of warmth and love. The same, however, cannot be said of Icardi’s relationship with his club. In an extraordinary situation, one of the world’s best strikers is at odds with Inter Milan and out of the team.
He has scored at least 20 times in three of the last four seasons, is far and away Inter’s most important player in terms of goals and assists since he joined in 2013, but many believe the current rupture means he will depart San Siro at the end of the season.
And central to the story is Wanda, who, crucially, is also Icardi’s agent. She regularly gives strident opinions on Italian talk show Tika Taka, creating a perennial sense of friction, but the catalyst for this episode of enemy-making came last week. She criticised Icardi’s team-mates for not creating enough chances.
‘More than giving Mauro a new contract, I’d prefer Inter to sign someone capable of giving him five good balls in every game,’ she said. It was an explosive statement and, allied to the belief Wanda is the source of stories revealing negotiations on a new deal are at an impasse, the ramifications were profound. Icardi was stripped of the captaincy and has not played since.
‘It was a difficult and very painful decision, we all know our former captain’s worth,’ said manager Luciano Spalletti. ‘We made it all together for the good of the club. There are certain things surrounding the lad which need to be fixed. These things have caused, and continue to cause, embarrassment to the team.’ It did not take much thinking to figure out what Spalletti was getting at.
Inter chief executive Giuseppe Marotta supported the call to hand the armband to goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, saying: ‘It had more to do with the behaviour on a daily basis rather than any one-off incidents, it’s a growth process.’
Icardi did not seem to see it as an opportunity for growth. The Argentine pulled himself out of the trip to face Rapid Vienna in the Europa League and posted on Instagram: ‘It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.’
He was also not in the squad for the Serie A game against Sampdoria last Sunday, but did watch alongside Wanda from the stands. He was forced to do the same again for Inter’s Europa League win over Rapid Vienna, again sat alongside his wife. During the Sampdoria game, when their images appeared on the big screen there were whistles from the crowd. The Ultras unfurled a banner which read: ‘We don’t want any mercenaries here’.
They still remember his incendiary 2016 autobiography where he wrote about bringing ‘100 criminals from Argentina’ to avenge those who had attacked him in difficult moments. If bridges were built, they have been burnt now.
Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera has reported that Icardi, who was fined £87,000 for returning late from the winter break, will not play for Inter again unless he is restored as captain. Talk of a divided dressing room was given volume when Marcelo Brozovic liked Inter’s tweet announcing that Handanovic had been given the role.
Spalletti, 59, said he has never experienced such a toxic situation, which is saying something given he oversaw the end of Francesco Totti’s time at Roma in fraught circumstances.
A sale seems inevitable and Juventus are favourites, but Inter chairman Steven Zhang said this week they would ‘never’ sell Icardi to a Serie A rival. There is however reported to be a clause letting Icardi join a foreign club for €120million (£104m), a fee Inter believe would be justified.
‘It’s no good for the team, no good for the player and it’s no good for the club,’ said Luis Figo, who played for the Nerazzurri for four years. ‘Players come and players go, but the club remains.’
It is believed Inter have tried to persuade Icardi to drop Wanda as his agent, and members of his family are of a similar mindset. Icardi’s sister Ivana has urged her brother to find ‘someone who really has your interests at heart’, calling Wanda a ‘viper’. Maxi Lopez, Wanda’s ex-husband and Icardi’s former team-mate, said last month she has treated his visits of their three sons as a ‘game’.
Icardi though is unflinching, saying his wife will ‘take care of my and our interests until the end of my career’. So those waiting for a resolution at Inter may well be disappointed.