Mauro Icardi is not a man who grants an infinite number of interviews, but when he does give them they usually make for very interesting reads indeed. And the latest instalment of this particular series is no exception in that sense.
This week, the Inter Milan skipper sat down with Argentine sports newspaper Olé for a long chat that meandered between many different topics, ranging from his pride at breaking the 100-goal barrier in Serie A to what he likes to do with his kids on his days off - as well as discussions on his future and his relationship with Lionel Messi, of course.
This being an interview with an Argentine publication the majority of questions Maurito was asked are inevitably related to the Selección and this summer’s upcoming World Cup in Russia, but even those provoke some good talking points, helping us to learn a little more about the man behind the player we’ve spent the last five seasons worshipping.
Here’s hoping you find it as interesting as I did. And here’s hoping it’s not one of the last interviews Maurito gives as an Inter player.
Mauro, what did it mean to you to reach 100 goals scored in Serie A and for Inter last month?
“I’m happy to go down in history at a club as great as Inter. It’s a source of pride, I’d never have imagined I would do that.
“It’s not at all easy to reach these numbers in Italy but I have to thank all of my team-mates for making it possible.”
How did it feel to consolidate yourself as their captain at such a young age?
“It’s the reward for all the work that I’ve done for the club and the team, and all the commitment I’ve shown for this shirt.”
After several seasons in which Inter haven’t competed for anything important, this year you’re fighting to qualify for the Champions League. How’s it looking at the moment?
“Things weren’t going as we’d hoped previously, but I’ve always been very optimistic and I’m certain Inter will soon be back where they deserve to be.”
Every time the transfer window opens your name is linked to all of Europe’s biggest clubs. How does that feel?
“It’s always nice to be recognised and I think it’s the result of all the improvements I’ve made [as a player]. That’s how you achieve things on a personal level and how you end up being appreciated by other top clubs.”
Why have you decided to stay at Inter so far?
“Because Inter have always been my team.
“When I was little I always used to play as Inter on the PlayStation. That’s why I enjoy playing here and have felt the need to stay here a bit longer.”
Are you not affected by the fact that Real Madrid and Chelsea both want you, amongst others?
“I’m very relaxed and I’m always concentrated on my objectives and those of the team.
“We can’t predict the future, so I’m just enjoying the present and trying to give the best of myself.”
Wanda said in an interview recently that she can see you remaining in Milan for several years yet. Is there a chance you could stay at Inter?
“Like I said, you can’t know what the future holds. My present is here, where we have our house, our friends and our life.”
People are talking about the prospect of there being a super all-Argentine attack at Inter with you and Lautaro Martinez. Is that possible?
“Yes. Lautaro is a great player and he’s having a good period of form. I hope for Inter’s benefit and his own benefit that he can adapt to life in Italy as well as possible.”
What do you think of Lautaro Martinez?
“He’s in a great moment of form and if he comes to Inter he’ll find people willing to help him with everything he needs.”
How important is it that you’ve reached this goal-scoring milestone in the season leading up to the World Cup?
“I’m not thinking about how close the World Cup is. I’m fully focused on what I’m doing for my club. After that the rewards take care of themselves.”
Are you not anxious to find out if you’ll make the World Cup squad?
“I don’t feel stressed or preoccupied by it. I’m one of those people who prefers to wait and see, who thinks that whether or not certain things happen will be determined by the goals I score.
“That’s my job for my club side and, if necessary, for the national team.”
Some have been saying that you’re out of the squad, whereas others think you’ll be there in Russia: what’s your impression?
“I’m just concentrating on doing my best for my club, like I have been for five years. The World Cup spots will go to whoever’s in their best form.”
Well you’ve been one of Europe’s most prolific goal-scorers throughout the last few seasons. Don’t you feel like this is the right moment for you to go to your first World Cup?
“I suppose, yes.
“I’m 25 years old, I’ve been Inter’s captain for three years now and I’ve just made history at the club with my goal-scoring record. And now my dream is to go to the World Cup, be it now or in the future.
“I’m convinced that if I don’t get the chance now, it’ll happen later on.”
In the next few days you’ll be meeting up with Sampaoli again. What did you talk about when he last spoke to you in January?
“We talked about our impressions from the short time we’d spent together in the national team.”
Do you think you did well in those games you started for Argentina?
“I didn’t come in during the greatest period for the Selección, what with all the pressure we were under. But I did what the coaching staff asked of me.
“To be honest I was very happy to have taken part in World Cup qualification.”
Aside from not managing to score, what weren’t you able to do that you normally do?
“I think I just needed more time.”
Did it not feel strange not being able to score?
“No, it didn’t feel strange. Like I said before, I think I just needed more time.”
Do you think that failing to score in those games might have cost you your place in Russia?
“No. Like I’ve always said, I think it’ll be a footballing decision based on who’s in the best form at that particular moment.”
Argentina can be very hard on its strikers. It feels like if you don’t score then you won’t get another chance. Is there too much pressure put on you strikers?
“No, I think Argentina quite rightly allows people second chances. I’m relaxed in that sense: whether I’m outside or inside I feel part of the group.”
Is it a good thing that Aguero and Higuain are the first-choice forwards for the Selección?
“Yes, they’re the most experienced.”
But seeing as they’re almost guaranteed a place in the squad, do you think there’s room for you too?
“I’m not thinking about that.
“I know them well, I value them and rate them both as footballers and as teammates. They deserve to be in the squad. If they’re chosen we need to support them and trust they’re the best options to go to the World Cup.
“Sampaoli knows that playing up front for Argentina is a big responsibility and that we have a decisive role in the team. But he knows I’m here too.
“Regardless of whether or not I’m in the squad I feel the same, I’m in touch with my teammates.”
Were you surprised to hear about Aguero’s injury?
“The only thing I’m hoping is that he makes a quick recovery, because he has the same dream as everyone else as well as the pride and responsibility of wearing this shirt, which is the best.”
In recent times it’s seemed as if many of the senior players in the squad wanted Higuain back. And that’s how it turned out. What do you think about this? Is this normal considering the relationships between those players?
“Higuain has scored a lot of goals for the Selección as well as for all the clubs he’s played for. He’s a world class striker and I’m certain he deserves to be in the squad.”
Is it true that not being part of the established group cost you when you were called up?
“Not at all, I’m on great terms with everyone. Whatever people have said it hasn’t affected me.”
A lot was said about you missing the friendlies in Russia in November [when he was injured], not least because you’d travelled with the squad to Australia [for the friendlies last June] despite being injured. Should you have gone even though you couldn’t play?
“I went with the squad to Australia because the season had ended in Italy and I wanted to be with the team. When the Russia friendlies came around I thought it was better to stay home after speaking with the medical staff at Inter, because I had a knee injury.
“It wouldn’t have made any sense to go to Russia and deny myself the chance to make a full recovery.”
What kind of relationship do you have with Messi?
“A normal one, just like with everyone else. I think people like to create problems that don’t exist sometimes. Leo and I share the same dream.”
You’ve posted various photos of you with him on your Instagram profile. Do you have any anecdotes you could share with us?
“To be honest I prefer to keep what we talked about to myself, as a [personal] memory.”
Sampaoli has said in the past that, if he were a striker playing with Messi, he’d ask him how he could become his ideal partner in attack. Have you done that?
“He’s the best player in the world, I don’t think there’s any need for us to talk. You just have to do your talking on the pitch. I always adapt to whatever circumstances I find myself in.”
Just like with Messi, having never played in Argentina, you don’t have strong emotional ties with any football fans in Argentina. You have much stronger ties with fans of European football. Is that a burden for you [when it comes to playing for Argentina]?
“No, I’ve never felt that, because if anyone gave me the strength to return to the national team it was the people of Argentina.
“It’s something that fills me with pride and makes me even more committed when I put on that shirt.”
Speaking of which, how did the fans treat you in the two games you played?
“The fans treated me really well, especially in the game I played at the Monumental. I felt a lot of affection from the Argentine fans.”
You must come across a lot of Argentines in Italy. Do they ask you about the Selección?
“Yes, all the Argentines I meet show me their affection and tell me about their desire to see me wear the shirt of our country.”
And the Inter fans? What do they say?
“They just ask me why I’m not in the squad. They see what I’m doing for their team and they want to see me playing for the Selección.”
Neither Messi nor Sampaoli see Argentina as one of the favourites to win the World Cup this summer. Do you agree?
“I think that if we do everything right and produce our best form at the right moment then we shouldn’t be afraid of anyone.
“Then of course we have the best player in the world on our team, so I have no doubt the other teams won’t be looking forward to playing us.”
After you scored four goals against Sampdoria you said it was a good thing that you hadn’t been called up for the friendlies with Italy and Spain. Why so?
“Because I’m a person who believes that the national team belongs to everyone and represents a country. For that reason I think it’s right that the players who are in the best form should get called up.
“In that period I hadn’t been playing with my club for a while because I’d had a small injury, and then I recovered and was able to score those four goals against Samp.”
What was it like watching the 6-1 defeat against Spain from afar?
“I felt the same way as everyone there, albeit with an extra bit of helplessness due to me not being present. I felt that I hadn’t been able to contribute my little grain of sand.
“Argentina deserves to stay at the top and shouldn’t have to suffer defeats like that.”
What would you like to say to the people of Argentina ahead of this World Cup?
“That we deserve to win this tournament. Having got to know the group in the Selección and the dreams they have, I’m sure Sampaoli and the players will give everything to come out on top.
“I have no doubt in my mind that they’ll do their best to bring the cup home.”
What’s it like having such a large family at just 25 years of age?
“I’m a very present father despite my work commitments.
“I think it’s crucial to accompany [the children] and be there for them in every special moment. I like congratulating them on their achievements and helping them out whenever they need.
“Seeing them grow is my biggest fortune and my main priority in this life.”
What values do you try to instil in your children?
“Respect and responsibility. Whenever I have a free day I love taking them to the park and enjoying the nice things in life with them, like animals and nature.”
What’s your attitude towards fame?
“I take it as something that comes naturally with my line of work.
“I don’t go to events, I’m not a big media player and I don’t do interviews other than the ones arranged by the club.
“I think people often misunderstand me because of the fact that I post lots of photos on social media. I like to keep a low profile.
“I prefer doing normal things that have very little to do with fame. I think the day I finish with football I’ll dedicate myself entirely to my family.”
It must be difficult for you to walk around the streets of Milan, though, what with all the affection people show you...
“Yes, it’s difficult for me to go into the city centre perhaps... but I try to look for places where I can enjoy being with my family and vice versa.”
What sort of things do you like doing with your family?
“I love going fishing, but mostly we just go to this park near our house and take the dogs for a walk there. Sometimes we have picnics too; the boys will ride around on their bicycles while the girls go on their tricycles.”