On Sunday at San Siro, Inter captain Mauro Icardi stepped up to take a penalty in his side's Serie A clash with Cagliari. The skipper's spot-kick went wide. Cagliari's supporters celebrated wildly but so too did the Inter ultras standing on the Curva Nord. It was a strange sight but wholly unsurprising. Those same supporters had unfurled a banner shortly before kick-off which savagely expressed their disdain for their team's leader. "You use a child to justify yourself and throw mud in our faces. You're not a man. You're not a captain. You're just a vile piece of sh*t."
The child in question may not even be real. According to Icardi, after Inter's defeat at Sassuolo in February 2015, he had tried to give his shirt to a young supporter only for one of the club's ultras to allegedly intervene and fling the jersey back at him in disgust.
"This is when I start insulting him," Icardi writes in his autobiography, 'Sempre avanti' ('Always forward'), which was published last week. "‘Piece of sh*t, you are acting all arrogant with a little kid to show off to the rest of the curva? Do you think you’re hard?'
"In the locker room I am acclaimed as a hero because nobody had ever faced off that way with one of the fan leaders."
The book was not well received by Inter's supporters. They have put up with several Icardi-centric soap operas since he arrived from Sampdoria three years ago. There was the very public affair with the ex-wife of former Blucerchiati team-mate Maxi Lopez, Wanda Nara, which started not with a kiss but an iPad and, almost inevitably, played out on social media. Nara subsequently became her partner's agent and placed further strain on Icardi's relationship with his club's supporters by openly discussing the prospect of her spouse leaving San Siro during the summer.
Of course, this was merely a flagrant attempt to secure a new contract for Icardi - and it worked, with the striker signing a new deal on October 7. It was hoped that this would usher in a new era of stability and success at San Siro, particularly as Icardi had seemingly shown signs of the leadership skills that many felt he lacked by inspiring Inter to a 2-1 win over Juventus in September with a goal and an assist.
However, Inter's fans have now had enough. "Icardi, as far as we are concerned, you’re finished," read a statement released by an ultras group on Sunday morning.
“It is pathetic to read such things talking about us. In his book he writes: ‘I am ready to face them one by one. How many are there? 50, 100, 200? OK, record my message and let him listen: I’ll bring 100 criminals from Argentina who’ll kill them where they stand. Then we’ll see.’
“He talks about helping little kids, then invents an incident that never happened to make himself seem superior to us, as if it weren’t obvious to all that we are the only curva that helps kids design the choreography in the stands.
"There are no more excuses. We considered him young, a bit of an idiot (like many), but deep down a good lad. Instead, this is an individual who cannot be allowed to wear the Inter armband. It's not for us, but Inter simply don't deserve this.
"You are finished with us. You're done. TAKE THE ARMBAND OFF, YOU CLOWN. Yes, that is what we demand."
Consequently, while Icardi should have been focusing on Inter's clash with Cagliari, he was instead penning an open letter to Inter's fans in a belated, desperate and futile attempt to defuse a potentially explosive situation.
"I simply gave my recollection of an incident [at Sassuolo]," he wrote. "If I had the slightest brain in my skull, I certainly wouldn’t have risked offending the curva. I didn’t want to offend or disrespect anyone.
"The captain’s armband represents the realisation of my childhood dreams, the joy that I gave first of all to my family and then to myself.
"You are the ones who I look out for every Sunday after scoring a goal, it is your embrace I seek first, because I love Inter.
"Imminently I will step on to the field, so I can’t go on any more. I hope you understand how important you are for me and how much respect and love I have for you, even if you decide to jeer me.
"I ask you just one thing as captain: stay close to Inter, as you always have done, because my team-mates and I need you. With affection, Mauro."
That affection is no longer mutual - if ever it was. Worse still, there is no longer even any respect. As a result, Inter are expected to strip Icardi of the captaincy on Monday.
The rights and wrongs of Inter's decision to give in to a very clear and unequivocal demand are up for debate. Ultras have long been considered to have been afforded too much power and control over clubs in Italy. They have been afforded special treatment in terms of ticketing and often given free rein to do as they please. Players have been physically assaulted, training grounds raided, games abandoned and rival fans murdered.
These radicals have also regularly adopted the stance that those that do not stand with them, are against them. Nowhere was this more disgracefully illustrated than at San Siro on May 24, 2009, when Paolo Maldini played his last home game for AC Milan. Rather than celebrate the career of arguably the greatest defender the game has ever seen, the ultras group known as 'Brigate Rossonere' chose to make a petty and pathetic reference Maldini's angry reaction to their protests following the team's loss to Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final.
"For your 25 years of glorious service you have the thanks of those who you called mercenaries and misers," read one banner, while other supporters sang "There's only one captain" as they held aloft a giant version of Franco Baresi's iconic No.6 shirt.
There are obvious differences between the case of Maldini and that of Icardi. Maldini served his club with pride and distinction for 25 years. He was the personification of loyalty. Icardi is anything but.
The collapse of his relationship with Inter's fans is borne of his own seemingly insatiable desire for the spotlight. Nobody would, however, argue for a second that Icardi deserves to have irate supporters unfurling banners outside his home, as happened on Sunday night, as that was just another worrying example of the ultras' propensity for crossing the line.
However, this is a man who actively conducts his private life in public. His every thought has now been published in an autobiography, which in itself raises questions about Inter's role in all of this. Are the Nerazzurri in such a state of disorganisation off the field, as well as on it, that nobody either thought to block or at least counsel against the use of such inflammatory language in relation to a still sensitive topic? Did anyone at Inter even read the book beforehand?
It is impossible not to conclude that this could have been avoided. Indeed, why was such a self-obsessed individual given the captain's armband in the first place? Icardi has always divided dressing rooms, not united them. Only this summer, there were reports that his own team-mates had grown weary of the Wanda-fuelled transfer speculation surrounding their skipper, while a poll conducted by Sky Sport Italia found that 83 per cent of Inter fans wanted the captaincy taken away from the Rosario native.
They are now set to get their wish. Those that celebrated Icardi's missed spot-kick will no doubt welcome his demotion just as enthusiastically. In truth, though, there are no winners in this whole sorry affair, only losers.