By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
The player himself called it an “unforgettable day”, but the impression he gave was that there will be many such afternoons to come. Mauro Icardi’s four goals against Pescara on Sunday led Sampdoria to a much-needed 6-0 victory at the Marassi, but moreover it really confirmed the Argentine as the best player in Serie A in 2013 so far.
The 19-year-old’s two-goal performance against Juventus at the beginning of January made many sit up and take notice, with a pair of clean strikes condemning the champions of Italy to only their third league defeat in 18 months under Antonio Conte. But his spectacular afternoon against the Delfino this weekend has quickly made news even further afield.
Cesare Prandelli had already outlined a plan to call the former Barcelona youth into the Italian national squad, and now there will be a huge push for that to happen sooner rather than later in order to tie him to the Azzurri, with the player’s agent admitting there is a real chance of it happening. "Italy is a possibility for Mauro, but he will give a response only if he is called up by Prandelli," Abian Morano told Tuttomercatoweb.
Icardi also refused to commit himself when speaking to the Sky Sport cameras after his superb showing on Sunday, telling the watching public: “I am Argentine, but I take pleasure from Prandelli’s compliments. You never know.”
MAURO ICARDI | CAREER STATS
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But the player’s current status as a hot property is a far cry from the position he was in two years ago. After three years with Barcelona, he was allowed to leave for Liguria for just €400,000 following a six-month loan spell with Samp. Seen as a huge step down, many believed it to be a sign that Icardi would not make it to the top level. But as Goal.com’s Spanish Football Writer Ben Hayward explains, there was a certain compatriot who came into the Catalans’ thinking.
“Mauro Icardi was born in Rosario, like Lionel Messi, but was never able to move out of his countryman's shadow at Camp Nou,” says Ben. “The Argentine had moved to Spain as a nine-year-old with his parents and opted to sign for Barca over their fierce rivals Real Madrid (as well as Sevilla, Valencia, Espanyol, Deportivo La Coruna, Arsenal and Liverpool) as a 14-year-old, choosing Camp Nou because the club wore the same colours as his youth side in Argentina, Sarratea.
“Icardi impressed as a youngster in Barcelona but his playing style was more Gabriel Batistuta than La Masia pass and move, with the Catalan coaches unsure of his suitability to the first team. And at the time, there was little room for orthodox strikers at the club under Pep Guardiola, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic frozen out, Bojan Krkic forced to leave the club and even David Villa now struggling due to Messi's move to the middle.
“That meant there were few chances for the striker, and his dream of playing alongside his hometown hero Messi was ultimately - and inadvertently - blocked by Leo himself.”
|"I am Argentine, but I take pleasure from Prandelli's compliments. You never know"
- Mauro Icardi on a potential Italy call-up
Icardi has been given the chance to show his ‘Batistuta-like’ qualities this term with Sampdoria, but as Goal.com Italy’s Sergio Chesi points out, his form has come almost by accident in many ways.
“Icardi is undoubtedly one of the greatest surprises of the Serie A season,” says Sergio. “His explosion was not really in Sampdoria’s plans, with the Argentine placed behind Maxi Lopez, Eder and Nicola Pozzi as the fourth choice striker in the Blucerchiati squad, but he has been brought into the starting line-up at a time when the three men ahead of him have all suffered injuries.
“That break has proven his fortune, with Icardi showing all of his varied qualities. He is a complete modern forward, combining great speed with a real physical potency. He has sometimes dropped below the level needed in small spaces, but has the physique to work hard for the team. Right now Icardi is demonstrating his magnificent ability in front of goal, not just scoring plenty, but doing so with many different types of strikes, alternating between the efforts of a ‘fox in the box’ and spectacular strikes.”
Sampdoria coach Delio Rossi now has a dilemma on his hands, needing to juggle his team’s targets for the season with the opportunity to help develop one of the new great striking hopes. The experience of a player like Maxi Lopez could come in very handy between now and the end of the season, but it would surely be criminal not to give Icardi a chance to spread his wings over the coming weeks and months.
Serie A’s form player could be about to show that he is the next great striking prospect. And with Barcelona having already suggested he has a bit of Batistuta about him, he could well have found a permanent home in Italy.
- AC Milan completed an improbable climb into the European places with a 1-0 victory over Atalanta on Sunday afternoon. Their abysmal start to the season has been followed up by a much more disciplined run, and Stephan El Shaarawy’s first-half strike in Bergamo moved them to within six points of the Champions League places. There is still much work to be done, with the odd lapse still visible in their play, but the turnaround has been a credit to Massimiliano Allegri and his side.
- The Rossoneri are arguably the best side in Lombardy right now, with Inter dropping more points at home to Torino on Sunday evening. The Nerazzurri have now drawn with Cagliari, Genoa and Toro at San Siro, with a loss to Siena also having been suffered in their own backyard, undermining their push for Champions League football. Even an early lead, given to them by a superb Cristian Chivu free-kick, wasn't enough to help them secure three points, and it took a second-half equaliser by Esteban Cambiasso to collect one. Andrea Stramaccioni has a job on to earn his side a top-three place, especially now the neighbours have moved to within one win of overtaking them.
- Fiorentina now find themselves outside the Europa League spots after a 2-1 defeat to Catania in Sicily. Suddenly Vincenzo Montella’s side, who were 12 points clear of Milan two months ago, find themselves chasing the Rossoneri, which is as much a reflection on the slump in Florence as it is on the form displayed by the Diavolo. Only two wins have been recorded in nine games, with the 17 goals conceded in that spell pointing to defensive issues which need to be fixed sooner rather than later. The once-dominant Viola midfield is also struggling, with Alberto Aquilani’s untimely sending-off at the Massimino helping Catania to grab the momentum which led to Lucas Castro’s late winner. Montella now has to show what his coaching skills are really made of to get his side back on track.