The story of Mauro Icardi's time at Barcelona - and why he left La Masia for Italy

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Former team-mates Ivan Balliu and Oriol Romeu, and journalist Jaume Marcet, recount the striker's time at the famous Masia academy

Mauro Icardi and Barcelona tried to make it work. 

The Rosario-born striker, who had moved to the Canary Islands at the age of nine, signed with the Catalan club's youth ranks in 2008 – the same year a certain other Argentine from Rosario, Lionel Messi, donned the senior squad's No.10 shirt for the first time.

However, despite his undeniable quality, Icardi failed to follow in his countryman's footsteps and become a star at Barcelona.

The young attacker would soon come to realise that in order to succeed in the professional ranks, he had to look beyond Camp Nou, the very pitch on which he will lead out Inter as club captain on Wednesday evening.

There was a time, however, when the forward was one of the pearls of La Masia – or rather should have been.

When he joined up with Cadet A, they were blessed with one of the most talented teams in the youth academy's history. And one that played with heart.

“There are not many generations from La Masia that have been so united over time. We spent a lot of weeks together in Ibiza,” Ivan Balliu, currently turning out in Metz's backline in Ligue 2, tells  Goal

Icardi had joined a team that was more like a family.

“The competition was healthy,” Balliu says. “In grassroots football they always give you opportunities and we tried to take advantage of them when they arrived.”

Icardi, though, faced more obstacles than most.

Firstly, as Oriol Romeu, a fellow Barca graduate now at Southampton, recalls, the Argentine was quite a reserved character and didn't integrate well.

“He was always covered by his family,” the midfielder says. “He only had a small connection with us.” 

La Masia bedroom

Despite his struggles to integrate, though, Icardi has fond memories of his time in Catalunya. 

“We've met a few times since then,” Romeu adds, “And we always talk about Barcelona.” Proof that the striker was steeped in the values of La Masia, even if his situation was more complicated than the rest.

“He didn't have the same multi-faceted profile like most of the other strikers that we had in La Masia, but he knew how to hold the ball and he was a great goalscorer,” says Balliu.

“How well he played in terms of his direct game was a given, and he could fight well with central defenders.”

These characteristics, however, “were not exactly what was required of a front man in order to fit the [Barca] model.”

Journalist Jaume Marcet points out that Icardi “was of the penalty-box striker archetype, an excellent goalscorer with a great air game, very different from the others at that time.

“He wasn't a player who participated in the build-up; he used to be isolated and disconnected."

Marcet adds, though, that "he is one of the best players I've seen in the formative football of Barcelona.”

Mauro Icardi, Inter

Even so, “He did not look completely comfortable in the game. He didn't link between the lines or fall in behind. He offered a more static profile and, at that time, he was asked for mobility that he simply didn't have.”

To make matters worse, Messi began playing as a 'false nine' under Pep Guardiola's orders during Icardi's second season at the club. Barca's other teams followed this practice, making Icardi's game even less suited to the Blaugrana's new philosophy.

According to Marcet, the coaches at La Masia asked their forwards to “drop off down the middle to receive the ball, offer more things than mere shots on goal”.

Icardi suffered as a consequence.

“Maybe he wasn't prepared to take on these tasks because he had different characteristics,” Marcet says.

Indeed, before his final season as a Barca player, in 2010-11, Zlatan Ibrahimovic found himself in a similar situation in Guardiola's first team and decided to return to Italy to link up with AC Milan.

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Icardi essentially followed suit in January 2011, joining Sampdoria on loan for the second half of the season.

He would not return, not as a Barca player anyway, as the Genoa club paid the €400,000 required to make the deal permanent in the summer of 2011.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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