Juve on alert: Exiled Icardi may have already played his final game for Inter
The striker hasn’t featured for the Nerazzurri since being stripped of the captaincy earlier this month and a summer transfer now looks inevitable
Antonio Cassano spent a significant chunk of his disastrous spell at Real Madrid having sex and eating cake. In that order.
“In Madrid, I had a friend who was a hotel waiter,” the retired 36-year-old explained in his autobiography. “His job was to bring me three or four pastries after I had sex.
“He would bring the pastries up the stairs, I would escort the woman to him and we would make an exchange: he would take the girl and I would take the pastries.
“Sex and then food: a perfect night.”
Fair to say, then, that Cassano knows a thing or two about getting one’s priorities wrong.
So, it was intriguing that during an appearance on Tika Taka last weekend opposite Mauro Icardi’s wife and agent, Wanda, he argued that the onus was on the striker to work out his current problems with both his team-mates and employers at Inter.
Icardi hasn’t played for Inter since being dramatically stripped of the captaincy without warning or explanation two weeks ago and, ostensibly, that’s because he says he has a minor knee problem.
However, Inter have already claimed recent medical tests have shown no change in the forward’s physical condition since he was last assessed, at the start of the season.
So, while the notoriously combustible Cassano said he could understand why Icardi might be hurting emotionally right now, the former Italy international nonetheless urged the dethroned captain to swallow his pride and take the first step towards reconciliation.
“I would have gone crazy [in his situation], but he doesn’t have to stay out of the team until June,” Cassano reasoned.
“He needs to go into the dressing room and clarify his position with the players for his own sake.
“I say it as an Interista : he needs to talk to those who have problems with him, shake their hands and, in June, what will be, will be.”
Wanda, though, disagreed entirely, telling Cassano that her husband is the innocent victim in this embarrassingly public affair.
“Mauro must go to the dressing room to resolve problems?” she asked, incredulous. “Enough of this rubbish! He’s done nothing. It’s all non-existent drama.”
If only that were true.
While we still do not know for sure what provoked Inter’s decision to take the captain’s armband away from Icardi and give it to Samir Handanovic, this whole episode has undeniably descended into a farce, one that is benefiting nobody.
Icardi is clearly devastated, while his wife is being vilified by fans and journalists alike. A disgruntled fan even threw a rock at her car while her children were in the back. The atmosphere has become that toxic.
Inter’s coach Luciano Spalletti and his players are being asked about their former captain constantly. They look as exhausted as they are irritated by all of the speculation .
“We can’t talk about this every day,” a bewildered Handanovic sighed after last weekend’s 3-3 draw at Fiorentina.
So, contrary to Wanda’s claim, the drama is very real, and un-ending.
And she is as complicit as anyone in that regard, given she appears on Tika Taka every week to curry support for her crestfallen husband.
Her tearful account of the effect losing the captaincy has had on Icardi (“it’s as if they have cut off his leg”) bizarrely led to Inter CEO Beppe Marotta ringing in to console Wanda live on air.
Wanda was even asked in an interview with Gente earlier this week if a rumoured affair with Icardi’s team-mate Marcelo Brozovic was to blame for the bad blood between her husband and the Croatian members of the Inter squad.
This is football as reality TV and there is a disturbingly sexist undercurrent to how Wanda is being treated by the press and supporters.
Certainly, anyone with female friends or colleagues in the industry would doubtless agree when the Argentine says, “It’s very difficult to be a woman in this macho world.”
She has endured several character assassinations in the past fortnight alone, the most damning of which came from her ex-husband, and Icardi’s ex-team-mate, Maxi Lopez, and Abian Morano, Icardi’s former agent. Both clearly have their own agendas against Wanda.
The club have also had enough of someone they saw as an obstacle in their attempts to persuade their former skipper to sign a new contract at San Siro.
As Icardi’s partner, Wanda clearly wants to do right by her husband and client.
Inter, though, have been repeatedly stated that their sole aim is to do right by the club and it’s obvious that many members of the Inter dressing room welcomed the decision to strip Icardi of the captaincy.
Wanda undoubtedly played a part in that by blaming Icardi’s team-mates for his recent goal drought before then, even more gallingly, speculating that “psychological problems” may have led to Ivan Perisic’s request to leave during the January transfer window, thus breaking that mythical bond between dressing room and the public domain.
Certainly, it was not a surprise to see the Croatia winger take issue with Matteo Politano for imitating Icardi’s famed ‘cupped ears’ celebration in last weekend’s 3-3 draw at Fiorentina.
Even less shocking was the fact that immediately after a game that featured a controversial late penalty awarded against Inter, Nara went looking for sympathy again.
“In football, there are so many injustices, like this penalty, Perisic’s attitude and keeping Icardi at home,” she lamented.
“He is someone who gave everything to Inter but is now being painted like a monster, which he’s not.”
Unfortunately, though, her appraisal of the situation once again cast her husband in an unfavourable light, given she essentially admitted that it wasn’t a knee problem “keeping Icardi at home”.
Icardi retains the support of many members of the Inter squad but even his closest allies are now said to have acknowledged that the controversy threatens to derail their bid to secure Champions League football for next season.
The Icardi affair has become a major distraction. They want it resolved. But they also want their star striker back.
As Cassano said, “They’re playing for third place; they need his goals.”
They also need an apology, though, and if Wanda’s words are anything to go by, Icardi is unlikely to issue one. He wants the captain’s armband back but Inter vice-president Javier Zanetti says that is not going to happen.
All of which means Icardi may well have played his last game for Inter.
Given his buy-out clause is €110 million, the prolific No.9 represents an attractive proposition for numerous top clubs.
Napoli wanted him as a replacement for Gonzalo Higuain in 2016, while Juventus tried to sign him last year before acquiring Cristiano Ronaldo and, according to Wanda, Inter were willing to let him go to Turin.
Despite the Icardis reluctance to leave their Milanese base, both clubs are expected to renew their interest in the 26-year-old.
So, just like everyone else at Inter, they will be watching with interest the next time Wanda appears on television to try to ascertain the Icardis next move.
It is a ludicrous situation. So ludicrous, in fact, that Antonio Cassano has become the voice of reason.
Food for thought for the Icardis, perhaps…