It was unsurprising given the lack of affection he’s received over the past 12 months that Mauro Icardi moved to Paris in search of love. What is more surprising is that he’s found it so quickly.
Icardi joined Paris Saint-Germain on a season-long loan deal from Inter Milan in September and has since scored seven goals in seven games, kept Edinson Cavani out of the side and provided a new storyline following the summer transfer saga surrounding Neymar.
Under normal circumstances, his impact shouldn’t have come as a surprise at all. After all, scoring goals is what Icardi does best. He scored 124 of them in 219 appearances for Inter before his career ground to a controversial halt last season.
Mauro Icardi has made a flying start at PSG after scoring seven goals in his first seven games
Icardi joined PSG on a season-long loan from Inter after a controversial 2018-19 season
Icardi scored just 11 goals in 29 games – his worst return since the 2014-15 season
Over the course of 12 months, Icardi was stripped of the captaincy after failing to agree a new contract, fell out with the club’s former coach, Luciano Spalletti, pulled out of Inter’s pre-season tour of Asia and was then told by supporters and the club’s CEO, Giuseppe Marotta, that he would never play for the club again.
But where did it all go wrong for a 26-year-old with one of the best goalscoring records in Europe and how has he been able to change the narrative so quickly?
Icardi’s problems began when he embarked on a relationship with Argentinian model Wanda Nara in 2013. The story caught fire as Nara was the wife of the striker’s former Sampdoria team-mate, Maxi Lopez, with whom she had three children. She later divorced Lopez, and Icardi revealed in his 2016 book that their relationship began while Nara was still married.
Icardi is married to his former Sampdoria team-mate Maxi Lopez’s ex-wife, Wanda Nara
Icardi sparked controversy after revealing their relationship began while she was still married
The pair’s frequent posts on social media have often been criticised in Italy and Argentina
Since then, the love triangle between Icardi, Nara and Lopez has been played out in public. In 2013, Sampdoria’s clash with Inter was nicknamed ‘The Wanda Derby’ as the former team-mates met for the first time since the revelations. Prior to the game, Icardi and Nara had each other’s names tattooed on their wrists and posted pictures of them together with Lopez’s children, who later asked them to stop doing so in an interview on Sky Sport in Italy.
As both teams lined up before the game, Lopez refused to shake hands with Icardi, who was now firmly cast in the role of villain in both Italy and his homeland Argentina.
Still, the striker appeared to revel in the hostility of the occasion and celebrated scoring the opening goal in a 4-0 win by sprinting over to Sampdoria’s Ultras sat in the Gradinata Sud stand. It was an act of self indulgence that earned him a yellow card and a public scolding from former Inter boss Walter Mazzarri.
When asked about Icardi after the game, he said: ‘If he carries on like this and we manage to get rid of a few of his excesses then he will become a great player, an attacker with all the true qualities of a centre-forward.
‘Up until the goal he carried himself perfectly. He should have returned to our side of the pitch afterwards and not made that gesture, even if it did not seem like a big deal to me.’
In the five years since the scandal, Icardi became Inter’s eighth highest scorer of all-time
In 2018 Icardi was named the best player in Italy over the past 12 months
They proved to be prophetic words. In the five years that followed, Icardi developed into one of the most lethal strikers in Europe and shouldered the responsibility of being club captain after being handed the armband in 2015 when he was still just 22.
His leadership earned the loyalty of Inter fans and his goals fired the club to the Champions League for the first time in six years in 2018. At 26, he stands as the eighth highest goalscorer in the club’s history.
But while the goals haven’t dried up, the controversial streak in his character and the impact of his relationship with his now wife have refused to go away. Icardi has won just eight caps for Argentina and was left out of their 2018 World Cup squad despite scoring 29 goals that season.
His omission and continued absence from the national side has repeatedly been blamed on his unpopularity in his homeland as a result of his marriage to Nara and perceived treatment of Lopez.
Since his marriage to Nara in 2014, Icardi’s wife has also taken on another important role in his life by becoming his agent.
Her involvement in the financial side of his career created further headlines in Italy and appeared to hinder negotiations for a new contract last season after he entered the final two years of his deal, which was due to expire in 2021.
Nara continually defended her involvement, but Inter vice-president, Javier Zanetti, criticised her attitude during negotiations.
Nara, who is now Icardi’s agent, was blamed after the striker rejected a new contract at Inter
The 26-year-old was stripped of the captaincy at Inter after failing to agree a new contract
Icardi subsequently turned down a contract offer and was then stripped of the captain’s armband for failing to commit his future to the club.
In response, the striker refused to travel for the club’s Europa League clash with Rapid Vienna in February, prompting a furious reaction from Inter boss Spalletti.
Prior to the game, he said: ‘The decision to remove the captaincy from Icardi was difficult and painful, absolutely shared by all the club members and taken for the good of Inter. He was called up for Vienna but he did not want to be there. Things around him have disturbed him and the team he captained.’
He ended last season with just 11 goals in 29 Serie A games – his lowest total since the 2013-14 season.
In July, Inter released a statement which revealed the striker wouldn’t join the rest of the squad on the club’s pre-season tour of Asia while contract talks remained at a standstill.
Antonio Conte was installed as manager and spent £75million on Romelu Lukaku, who was given Icardi’s No 9 squad number, before signing Alexis Sanchez on loan.
Icardi joined PSG on a season-long loan deal in September after being frozen out at Inter
Reports linked Juventus and Napoli with a move for Icardi, but Nara rejected suggestions she’d spoken to either club and maintained that her husband still wanted to stay at Inter.
But with Inter moving on without him, he joined PSG on a season-long loan deal. They also have the option to buy him for £59m at the end of the season.
On the same day it was also announced he’d signed a two-year contract extension at Inter. That is mainly because the club wanted to prevent him running down the final 12 months of his contract in the event PSG don’t take up their option.
As it stands, that seems unlikely. Icardi has become an instant hero at the Parc des Princes.
After a summer dominated by Neymar’s on-off move to Barcelona, the striker’s impact has put the questions over Brazilian’s future in the shade and meant PSG haven’t missed their talisman on the pitch.
His ability to play in both a 4-3-3 or 4-2-2-2 formation has seen him emerge as PSG boss Thomas Tuchel’s first-choice striker and relegated Edinson Cavani to the bench.
The striker has settled quickly at the Parc des Princes and been praised for his performances
Icardi scored twice in PSG’s 5-0 win over Club Brugge in the Champions League
After scoring twice in the 5-0 Champions League win over Club Brugge, Tuchel hailed Icardi’s all round game.
‘Mauro Icardi is very smart tactically,’ he said. ‘He’s very reliable for us and it’s extraordinary because he works so hard as well. He’s very disciplined and very smart without the ball.’
His conduct off the pitch has been equally impressive. In his first interview since moving to France, Icardi showed a maturity perhaps lacking earlier in his career and suggested he’d been misunderstood by those who didn’t really know him, while revealing a desire to win the trophies that eluded him during his seven years at Inter.
‘Those who know me know how I really am, that’s what counts,’ he told Canal+. ‘I’m certainly more judged on my personal life than on what I do on the pitch.
‘But it’s been going on for seven years now, since I’ve been living with Wanda Nara. I know she’s a famous person, but that doesn’t affect my state of mind. Otherwise I wouldn’t have scored 150 goals in Inter.’
He added: ‘I had arrived at my seventh year at Inter. I dreamed of playing the Champions League with Inter and the dream came true. But we didn’t get great results, we didn’t win anything.
‘I stayed, I scored a lot of goals, and it was time for me to join a winning team, that can win titles. It’s time to start winning, and to get to a team full of champions like PSG was what I wanted.’
He may well get his wish.