Boasting talent to spare and a proven track record in front of goal in two of Europe's top leagues, Mauro Icardi should be hot property going into the next transfer window. Instead he finds himself in a curious position: a reverse tug of war between Inter and Paris Saint-Germain, in which neither team wishes to secure his services.
After a nightmare end to 2018-19 in Milan, which saw him stripped of the Inter captaincy and consigned to the bench, Icardi must have thought his luck had changed when the French giants swooped last summer.
The Argentina international initially made all the right noises in Paris. Taking advantage of injuries in PSG's stellar attacking line-up, he announced himself to the Parc des Princes faithful with seven goals in his first six outings to become an instant favourite.
Even with first-team football increasingly hard to come by in the weeks leading up to Ligue 1's coronavirus-enforced halt, his numbers were more than respectable. Icardi boasts 12 strikes in just 14 starts in the French top flight this season, more than Edinson Cavani and level with superstar Neymar. But at a time when he should be thinking about consolidating his position alongside the likes of the Brazilian and Kylian Mbappe, he continues to hover precariously close to the exit.
In a repeat of the actions which saw him ostracised from the Argentina team and hustled out of San Siro, it is off the field that the striker's behaviour continues to let him down. The decision to decamp from Paris during the coronavirus outbreak to the luxurious house he shares with wife Wanda Nara near Lake Como – one of the most heavily affected areas in Europe, situated in the virus-ravaged north of Italy – was met with bemusement by his temporary employers, while Wanda has made no secret of her desire to return to Italy.
“PSG is the worst option for me,” the player's agent admitted to Telefe before the ink was even dry on Icardi's contract. “We are going to have one base in Italy and one in Paris, with two houses and two schools. It is a mess.”
Recent reports suggest that the PSG board fielded a call from Wanda in which they were told unequivocally that the Icardi family wished to move back home as soon as possible. Far from exercising the Argentine's reported €70 million release clause, the French side were even said to be considering cutting his loan short, which would leave him in limbo and without a club when the European seasons finally re-open.
The breakdown of relations with coach Thomas Tuchel has also pushed Icardi towards a departure, with the pair apparently holding a furious exchange of opinions after the striker was benched for both PSG's Champions League fixtures against Borussia Dortmund and failed to see a single minute of action. Tempers have since calmed, with Tuchel impressed with how his charge responded in training, but Icardi is adamant that he deserves to feature in his side's biggest games.
Should Tuchel remain in his post, Icardi is unlikely to form part of his plans. Nothing is set in stone amid such global uncertainty, however. Icardi's next move largely hangs on what happens to both Tuchel and Cavani, as PSG continue in conversations with both Wanda and Inter over making use of their option.
If both the German and the Uruguayan move on, he could yet earn a reprieve in the shape of regular first-team football, with the coming transfer window almost impossible to envisage amid the pandemic.
Inter, meanwhile, show little sign of missing their former captain, having seen Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez strike up a lethal partnership in his absence. Coach Antonio Conte for one would be in no rush to see him come back, after removing him from training in his very first days at San Siro and telling reporters: “Icardi is not part of our project. The club has made that very clear”; and Inter's fanbase, alienated by the forward's turbulent exit, would also resist any efforts to mend broken bridges.
The next step, then, is far from clear. A move to Juventus was mooted last summer but, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala all on the Turin side's books, it is difficult to see how Icardi would receive the regular football and star status he appears to crave.
One sensational alternative has emerged in Inter's arch-rivals Milan, who would certainly benefit from the forward's goalscoring ability if, as feared, Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs up his boots whenever the 2019-20 season eventually comes to an end.
At 27, Icardi now stands at a crossroads. Marked for stardom while barely out of his teenage years, warming the bench at PSG and a paltry total of eight Argentina caps is scant return for his obvious natural ability. Whatever his next move, and that eventual destination is far from clear, he must begin to show maturity off the pitch to match his talents on it to avoid throwing away a career that should now be at its peak.