Ahead of this weekend’s crunch match against Juventus at the Allianz Stadium, Inter captain Mauro Icardi sat down with the Gazzetta dello Sport’s Mirko Graziano for a lengthy but extremely engaging interview, which was published in Friday’s paper.
Talking points included Saturday’s Derby d’Italia and what’s changed at Inter under Luciano Spalletti, as well as Icardi’s (almost) lifelong passion for the Nerazzurri and his ups and downs with the Argentine national team.
Inevitably, however, the conversation started with questions about the incessant transfer rumours that have him at the top of Real Madrid’s shopping list.
The full version of Maurito’s interview is available below, and I can personally recommend reading it right to the end: I certainly feel like I learned a thing or two about him.
Mauro Icardi, in Spain this week they’ve spoken about a supposed medical with Real Madrid scheduled for the end of December.
Fair enough, but if Real, Bayern or PSG did turn up with the money necessary to trigger your release clause [€110m] and a lucrative contract, what would you do?
“I’ve already answered this question several times. It’s not the right moment to be having these kinds of discussions, and anyway it’s not me who’s in charge of these things.”
But the release clause can only be activated with your approval.
“Well no one’s even arrived with the money yet! [laughter] No really, let’s be clear, I’m very happy in Milan and everyone knows that. I love the city, I’m playing football, I’m scoring loads of goals and I’m the captain of a massive club: these are important things for me. The mercato is other people’s business, all that interests me is what I’m doing on the pitch, doing my job there, or rather scoring and helping the team. Wanda is the one who talks with the club.”
There’s talk of a possible contract renewal, that your release clause is too low. But aside from all that, do you really want to stay here in Milan?
“It was Inter who inserted the release clause, I don’t know whether it’s low or high. And as I said earlier, my intentions are clear: I want to win something with this team. If offers were to arrive in the future then those clubs would all have to go and speak with Inter, with Piero and the President, and then we’d see.”
So essentially, unless it’s Inter who decide to ‘sacrifice’ you...
“I’m happy here in Milan!”
Ausilio has said you’ll have several contract renewals with Inter yet.
“Well we’ve already had quite a few, but in that case there’ll be a lot more of them [laughter]. Piero likes negotiating with Wanda, there’s a love-hate relationship between the two of them.”
You’ve never been tempted to leave over the past few years. There’s always been Inter in your head despite the terrible results on the pitch. Where does your love for this club come from?
“It’s Adriano and [Obafemi] Martins’s fault. When I was a kid I always played as Inter on the PlayStation: Adriano was devastating while Martins was lightning quick. As well as that I liked the fact that there were so many Argentines in Inter’s history. I wasn’t an Inter supporter at that time, but that was how the Nerazzurri colours started to come into my head.
After all that, there was one incident that tied me to Inter properly. While I was living in the Canary Islands [2002-08, between the ages of 9 and 15] some of my family friends went to Milan on holiday, and they even did the tour around San Siro. They came back with two caps: an Inter cap and a Milan cap. They were for me and for a friend of mine: I got to choose first and I chose the Inter cap, without a moment’s hesitation. Perhaps it was in that precise moment that I became an Inter fan. It was incredibly exciting when Moratti personally wanted me at all costs and signed me from Sampdoria.”
Let’s return to the present: what is it that’s changed from last season? You’re pretty much the same set of players...
“What’s changed is the atmosphere around the team, in every sense. And credit for that goes mostly to Spalletti and his close relationship with the club’s directors.”
Describe Spalletti for us then.
“He has a very strong personality, he knows how to transmit to you what he wants and thinks is right very quickly. He’s been an enormous help in the dressing room, he’s got into our heads; he’s changed a lot of things in this short period of time.”
We hear a lot about his exceptional work on the training ground.
“Pretty much all coaches work well on the training ground. Spalletti is definitely impressive in this aspect, but the difference with him has mostly been off the pitch - that’s why I spoke about a better atmosphere earlier, a better mood. Last year we started pre-season with Mancini, then De Boer came in a few days before the season started, and then he left and Pioli came in. Now everything is much clearer around the team and this has given everyone more peace of mind; everyone has been put in the conditions to work as well as they possibly can. You could spot the difference right from pre-season...”
From afar the improvements made under Spalletti have seemed to be mostly psychological: nowadays the team is always alive, reactive and compact, whereas last year it only took a tiny obstacle for everything to collapse. Is that fair?
“In my opinion, when things outside the dressing room aren’t clear there’s always a bit more confusion around the place, and this confusion then spreads everywhere. You could sense this very strongly between players, staff and directors last season. Failing to resolve certain problems at the outset certainly doesn’t pay off in the long run.”
What does Juventus-Inter mean this weekend?
“It needs to provide continuity of what we’ve been doing so far this season. We’re not top of the league by chance, but we have to approach this match like one leg of a very long tour. Like always there are three points up for grabs, we must never forget that. We appreciate the significance of a game like this of course, but we need to approach it with intelligence, without losing sight of what our goals for the season are.”
Are Inter Scudetto contenders?
“Our Scudetto is to qualify for the Champions League - that’s what the club have asked us for, that’s the target we cannot fail to meet.”
The fans are dreaming though...
“It’s only right that they start to dream; we on the other hand have to be pragmatic and keep our feet on the ground. Let’s get the Champions League in the bag, and then if we’re still there at the front with three or four games left then we can start to think about something bigger than that. With Mancini we were top of the league midway through the season, and yet we finished badly and ended up fourth.”
Why should this year finish any differently to that year?
“Everyone has the right mentality. We’re calm, pragmatic and sure of ourselves - now we just need the fans to give us a hand in this sense too.”
Last season Juventus-Inter had a very controversial ending: Perisic was sent off and then you were suspended for having kicked the ball towards Rizzoli. What kind of atmosphere will there be in Turin tomorrow night?
“Well if the same thing happens this year the coach will cut our heads off... our tension played nasty tricks on us last season. But now we know how to deal with every kind of situation, I’m certain of it. We have the right kind of mentality to deal with a game like this one.”
Is this the best Mauro Icardi ever?
“No, the best is still yet to come.”
Nowadays though we’re seeing a complete centre-forward, who scores non-stop but not at the cost of giving everything he’s got for the good of the team.
“This is where the coach’s work during the week counts. My performances are the consequence of what he says to us every day, or rather to always prepare yourself to do something extra for your team-mate, in order to help the team. Spalletti is relentless in repeating certain concepts, it’s not a coincidence that everyone who comes off the bench is always super-motivated.”
Your goals-per-game ratio is incredible: if you keep going at this rate you could threaten Higuain’s record [36 goals scored in a Serie A season].
“Last season I scored 24 goals and we didn’t achieve anything. Obviously I want to score loads of goals, but only if they help Inter get back to where they have to be - the Champions League.”
Is today’s Mauro Icardi a world class player, or are you still lacking something?
“I’m lacking Europe. To be at the top I have to play at a certain level. Serie A is a great league, but playing in the Champions League is another fundamental and necessary step.”
Will the World Cup help you in that sense?
“Of course, all the best players on the planet are in that tournament. If I’m called up it’ll be a unique opportunity for me.”
You’ve been ‘marginalised’ by lots of Argentina coaches: have you ever been tempted to say yes to Italy’s offers for you? Prandelli would have done anything to have you in his side.
“No, I’m Argentinian and I’ve always dreamed to put the Seleccion’s shirt on. I’ve achieved my objective and now I want to win with my country as well.”
Some people have said that Sampaoli was very annoyed about you forfeiting their last two friendlies [due to the injury sustained in the Torino game]...
“Rubbish! In Argentina people write a lot of things just to sell newspapers, things that often aren’t true.”
Maradona really isn’t a fan of yours.
“He was a legend on the pitch, but I don’t know how to respond to him. I don’t know him as a person, I know his son and various things about him, but I don’t speak about who I don’t spend time with personally. Maradona has a fixation for me... that’s his problem!”
Does Mauro Icardi have a role model?
“I’ve never watched much football in general. Anyway, my idol has always been Batistuta, although I loved Eto’o while I was at Barcelona.”
You’re from Rosario. Messi is from there as well.
“Leo was intrigued at finding another lad from Rosario at Barcelona, it was this that got us talking to each other initially. We both support Newell’s Old Boys.”
Speaking of Barcelona, why didn’t things work out for you there?
“That type of football, with lots of little guys, wasn’t made for me. Even Ibrahimovic had massive trouble there. I immediately realised that with my characteristics I wouldn’t have had much room in the first team. Then Samp arrived and offered me the chance to go to a league I felt much more mine.”
Tevez says that Serie A is like university for centre-forwards.
“He’s right, whoever scores here scores everywhere.”
Put the league’s top teams in order for us.
“Well we’re the new entry up at the top of the league this year, the intruder is Inter in a certain sense... [smile]. Juve, Napoli and Roma have been dominating at the top for several seasons, in particular Juve who’ve won the league six years running. Nonetheless we’re comfortable in the middle of that group. We’re building something important, we’re getting closer to that level and we have to keep going along this path, without any showy declarations but with the conviction that we’re on the right track.”
Let us know what you thought of Icardi’s interview in the comments section below.