Inter fans still jaded by Mauro Icardi's personal life and outspokenness
If there's one man who has played a crucial role in Inter's unbeaten run, it's Mauro Icardi.
With the Nerazzurri enjoying an unprecedented unbeaten start to the season, the Rosario native has led the line with 15 goals, level with Lazio's Ciro Immobile at the top of the Serie A goal-scoring charts.
And yet, a mere 15 months ago, there were many not-so-enlightened souls who wanted this (supposedly arrogant) young pup carted off to Napoli for a sum believed to be in the range of €50-60 million.
Now that Icardi is attracting attention from some of Europe's biggest clubs (including PSG and Real Madrid), there is talk of doubling his €110m release clause -- something not so ridiculous when considering the €150m Barcelona spent on the already-injured Ousmane Dembele.
It's not hard to understand why: Icardi is the Krav Maga of football, delivering one-two punches (often inside as little as 10 minutes) to turn balanced football games into knockouts. Beyond that, the Argentine has scored a scary 54 percent of the Nerazzurri's goals this season, more than any other player has managed for their respective club this season.
Icardi has a shooting percentage of 31 percent, scoring those 15 goals from only 49 attempts at goal. Coach Luciano Spalletti said that the 24-year-old "swoops on the ball. It's his prey", a list which Leonardo Bonucci is also a part of after the Argentine ran rings around him in Inter's recent 3-2 derby win.
Yet the former Sampdoria man (signed for only €13m, pretty much the only good thing Marco Branca ever did unsupervised) isn't quite everyone's cup of tea. In fact, he isn't many Inter fans' cup of tea, hence why a fair few wouldn't have minded shipping him off to Napoli in 2016, with all the symbolism such a move would have entailed.
But are they right? Once every two or three weeks a Twitter personality (often not a supporter of Inter) will write what an amazing player Icardi is, and how lucky the club is to still have him. How can we relate those moments with, well, the rest of the time, when it feels like the striker is just a mistake away from being grumbled at?
Part of it is the fact that the Argentine still needs to work on his build-up. Though it has been argued in these pages that having an out-and-out striker who actually scores is better than, say, having someone like Roberto Soldado work hard for Tottenham but never find the back of the net, there is little doubt that Icardi can be wonky on the ball, or just not involved enough.
Then again, the goals the 24-year-old scores should more than make up for this. And anyway, we've also seen him play deeper more often, and make a surprising amount of tackles in front of his own defence, frequently on opposition counters. Fans should look at how Mario Mandzukic has evolved, and realize that Icardi is just as determined, disciplined and motivated as the Croatian to improve and become a complete player.
And yet this is exactly the problem with Maurito: though it would be presumptuous to know what he is truly like, many have been willing to assume the worst, essentially based on three things: his dating (and ultimately marrying) Wanda Nara, the former wife of an ex-teammate, his autobiography, and the decision to ask for a new deal in 2016, spearheaded by Nara, who had become his agent in the meanwhile.
Beyond the fact that this supposed "betrayal" involved a player (Maxi Lopez) who wasn't even close with Icardi, or that it is frankly ridiculous that we are still trying to judge some people in modern times while letting others (Ryan Giggs for example) completely off the hook, two things sticks out: that none of this is really any of our business anyway, and we've let all of this colour our judgement of the man far too much.
Are any of us willing to admit that the guy who goes to sleep early after reading bedtime stories for five children (that's right, he's raising Maxi Lopez's three kids as well) is somehow worse than Fabio Cannavaro, who faked an injury so he could join Juventus from Inter, or both Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba, who loved the nightlife and struggled with fitness issues? Is insulting the ultras (fabulous people, I'm sure) or wanting more money (he's a young man with a talent worth milking as much as he wants or can, it's called capitalism) really worse?
If I had been a major European club, I would have swooped for Icardi back in 2016, and taken him at that price. People's judgmental instincts (combined with a coach, Roberto Mancini, who didn't play to Icardi's strengths) had made an economic inefficiency out of a man who has gone on to score 39 goals in 48 league games, most of them at a time when the Nerazzurri were rudderless and cycling through coaches.
And yet there are still those who doubt, and treat Icardi as if he were starring on EastEnders. He may well be on Match of the Day before long, and boy will we rue his absence then.
Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.