Mauro Icardi flies close to the sun
By Giancarlo Rinaldi
It was the moment when Sampdoria fans held their breath. Their former youth team player, Christian Puggioni, had come racing off his line on a kamikaze mission to protect the Chievo goal. When he reached the advancing Doria striker Mauro Icardi he sent a bit of everything flying. Around Italy and beyond, the young Italo-Argentinian’s list of potential suitors flinched noticeably.
Prof Claudio Mazzola, a medical consultant with the Genoese club, scampered from his seat in the stands down to the dressing rooms to check on the talented 20-year-old’s condition. There were further checks the following day as everyone anxiously awaited news. Eventually, the white smoke came, it was a nasty knock but nothing serious. The drawers containing the club chequebook could be reopened around the world.
Every Italian season throws up a new surprise goalscorer. Some of them go on to have great careers and emerge as genuine world beaters. Others turn out to be Rolando Bianchi. Few experts doubt, however, that Icardi is the real deal.
They know a thing or two about goalscorers in the port city. Looking back through Sampdoria’s recent history some outstanding strikers have donned their black, white and red stripe. Gianluca Vialli, Enrico Chiesa, Vincenzo Montella and, more recently, Giampaolo Pazzini all passed this way. They reckon they have unearthed someone who will stand comparison with those fine finishers in years to come.
The Blucerchiati had got a taste of what they could expect during a loan spell from Barcelona last year when the boy shone in their Primavera youth team and then scored on his Serie B debut. He had the air of a Predestinato - a player preordained for greatness. He has confirmed that impression in Serie A this year.
An amazing matchwinning performance against Juventus in January truly caught the eye of both Italian clubs and others outside the peninsula. Down to 10 men and trailing the reigning champions, nobody gave the Doriani a hope. But they forgot to tell Icardi it was a lost cause and he produced two goals to turn the game on its head. The result was all the sweeter for newly-appointed coach Delio Rossi as he had fought to keep his young forward in Genoa despite a call-up to Argentina’s Under 20 side.
If there was any danger of that performance being a one-off it was dismissed later the same month. Icardi grabbed four goals in a 6-0 hammering of Pescara. Undoubtedly the visitors’ defence was one of the weakest in the Italian game but, nonetheless, such scoring feats remain a rare commodity in Serie A. The cat was well and truly out of the bag about Icardi.
The ironic thing is that, in some ways, he only got his chance by accident. A string of injuries to more established front men gave him the opportunity to lead the line. It prompted one local paper to sum up his team’s new tactics as “Four at the back and get the ball to Icardi”.
Not many people would think that heading to a team which was, at the time, in Serie B as the best career option. Even fewer would consider leaving Barcelona a particularly wise thing to do before you have even put your teenage years behind you. But the striker from Rosario is clearly happy to take an unconventional route to the top.
His family left Argentina behind when he was still a boy and moved to Spain. He started playing with Unión Deportiva Vecindario but his goalscoring exploits soon caught the eye of others and Barcelona eventually snapped him up as a 15-year-old. But, with such a huge pool of talent at its disposal, the Catalan club ultimately let him slip away.
He joined Sampdoria on loan and they later used the option to buy, a deal which looks better with every passing day. He has been linked with most of Italy’s top sides - including Juventus, Inter and Napoli - and a number of overseas teams. The Nerazzurri are the name most often being cited. Comparisons have been drawn with great Argentinian strikers of the past - such lofty legends as Abel Balbo and Gabriel Batistuta being mentioned in the same sentence.
Such confirmation of his talents may be a long way off but there is no doubting the early signs are impressive. His movement is outstanding and the strength he shows when working up front is enough to keep a whole defensive line occupied on his own. And, so far, the goals just keep on coming.
“La Masia is one of the best structures in the football world, I felt privileged to be there and I worked hard to improve. The experience was incredible both personally and tactically, those years helped me to where I am today,” he told Prossimi Campioni, a website dedicated to unearthing stars of the future.
“In Italy physique is as important as individual technique,” he added. “I can combine both so I think that makes me a player suited to Italian football.”
“Leo Messi is the best, he is my friend and we are both from Rosario but when I was small I noticed Batistuta. I think my style of play is like his, he was an incredible player and I dream of doing as well as he did in Italy. I left Barcelona to pursue my own goals and now I am having a great time.”
Time will tell if he can live up to the legend of a player like Batigol. He wrote swathes of Calcio history during his time with Fiorentina, Roma and Inter. That last club appear to have been the most insistent suitor, hoping to add him to the South American colony they have formed in recent years. If he can confirm his promise he will be a more than worthy heir to the adulation heaped upon the sadly often-injured Diego Milito. He has movement, strength and an unerring eye for goal.
He also, clearly, has a pretty cool head. With all the talk of transfer deals, he has regularly said he is in no hurry to make a move and is “calm” about where his future lies. That might be what all promising young players say but you get the feeling with Icardi that it has more than a grain of truth. With a talent so obvious and clear, he can afford to be more relaxed than those scouting him about which team he will be with next season.
This piece was written by Giancarlo Rinaldi, a regular contributor to AFR, as well the likes of the BBC and his own blog. Comments below please.