Keeping up with the Icardashians! Is Lautaro Martinez ready to take advantage of Inter soap opera?

Mauro Icardi, Lautaro Martinez, Wanda Nara
While the Nerazzurri's feud with their ex-captain continues to smoulder, his young countryman is hopeful of making his own name at San Siro

An unhappy player; a wife-slash-agent who has quickly alienated everyone at the club; and no shortage of friends, family and foes who are more than willing to twist the knife: Inter's feud with Mauro Icardi has all the elements of the trashiest mid-morning soap opera and shows no sign of cooling down. It may feel exhausting, but observers have no choice but to try their best to keep up with the Icardashians.

As the much-repeated trope goes, though, in crisis one can often find opportunity. And it is Icardi's team-mate and compatriot, young striking prospect Lautaro Martinez, who has most to gain if the messy break-up between club and ex-captain proves irreconcilable.

Icardi's dispute is ostensibly at its root over a new contract with the club which he has represented with distinction and no little controversy for the last five and a half years, three of which as captain. Inter are understandably keen to tie down their star, who at 26 is already considered one of the world's elite strikers.

But the Argentine's camp, led by wife Wanda Nara, is equally insistent that Mauro be allowed to play the field. “Icardi's renewal with Inter is a very long way off,” she said in recent comments to reporters. “We have not received a satisfactory offer. It is not logical for Mauro to renew on the same salary he receives now – we believe he is at a superior level.

“We have a very good relationship with the two biggest clubs in Spain who are very interested in Mauro, as well as one in France and one in England.”

It was the constant courting of other clubs, most notably Real Madrid – Icardi reportedly watched December's Copa Libertadores final in the Bernabeu as a personal guest of president Florentino Perez – that finally snapped Inter's brittle tempers. Icardi has been stripped of his captaincy and in response has gone into self-imposed exile, missing the Nerazzurri's last three matches in Serie A and the Europa League.

What has followed is an endless to-and-fro, of accusations, denials and counter-accusations. Reports that Icardi would only play again once his armband was returned have been trashed - “To keep saying this s**t is dangerous”, responded Wanda – while there seems no indication that the stand-off will come to an end.

In the meantime everyone from Icardi's sister, former Argentine Big Brother contestant Ivana to Wanda's ex-husband and Icardi's old team-mate Maxi Lopez has become embroiled in the mess. “The only one who doesn't realise nobody can stand [Wanda] is my brother,” Ivana wrote at the start of 2019, while Mauro hit back by telling his sibling to “worry about using the time you waste on Twitter with bulls**t to get a job.” “Stop being so stupid and open your eyes,” Icardi replied to her brother in a furious social media exchange, before landing a final blow on Wanda, a “snake who is performing witchcraft.”

Lopez, meanwhile, could not resist exercising his own Twitter-based schadenfreude. “So much nonsense from this supposed lady,” the striker fired on his account. “When you try to displace your problems, you start speaking nonsense to try to solve a problem that sooner or later has to arrive.”

Amid all the bad blood, meanwhile, one person at least is making the most of his opportunity. Martinez, 21, arrived at San Siro in July after starring at Racing Club in his native Argentina, enjoying a stunning start to 2018 that left him inches away from breaking into Jorge Sampaoli's ill-fated World Cup squad.

The youngster knew that his first season would be one of adaptation, and so it has proved. While with seven goals so far this season he has at least done enough to dispel fears his time at Inter could pan out as badly as the hapless Gabriel Barbosa's spell, there has been little doubt that Icardi (with whom he has struck up a rapid friendship) was No.1 in Luciano Spalletti's plans.

Lautaro has been used sparingly, mostly off the bench when Inter have needed goals fast in the final minutes of tense matches.

Now, though, Mauro's debacle has opened the door for him to star. Martinez netted from the spot last week to guide Inter to victory over Rapid Vienna in Austria and put in a tireless if ultimately fruitless display the following weekend as the Nerazzurri squeezed past Sampdoria. While he saw little of the ball in Thursday's Europa League stroll, the Argentine keeps making the right noises and whatever happens with his countryman is strengthening his case for regular inclusion.

He is far from the finished article, of course. Sampaoli famously suggested prior to the World Cup that Lautaro still lacked the pace to succeed at the top level, and while he has proven himself adept at breaking into the area and causing defenders grief the forward does seem lightweight at times, too quick to go down under legitimate contact rather than holding off his markers.

Lautaro PS

The player himself also recognises the importance of Icardi to the Nerazzurri. [Tuesday] was his birthday, we said goodbye and congratulated him, he was happy to be with us," he told Sky Sport Italia earlier in the week.

"We will continue to support him, as his future will depend exclusively on his decision and who manages it: not by us team-mates.

Article continues below

"For us he is a very important player. We hope to have him back soon."

There is no doubt though that he is developing in leaps and bounds in an Inter team that this season has not always guaranteed healthy supplies of quality possession for its strikers. He will need time and much more playing experience, but his very presence in the Inter ranks have already arguably strengthened the Nerazzurri's hand as they play hardball with Icardi.

This soap opera may still provide yet more twists and turns, but if Inter's troublesome former captain does ultimately decide to walk away, the line of succession at San Siro is definitely in safe hands.