World Cup 2018: Why isn’t Inter’s Mauro Icardi on the plane?

Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli left the Inter striker out of his squad for Russia.


REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Jorge Sampaoli announced his squad for the 2018 World Cup yesterday, with the focus on Argentina’s fierce firepower in the final third, including Juventus duo Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, Manchester City’s top league scorer Sergio Aguero and key man Lionel Messi.

However, there was one glaring omission. Inter Milan’s striker and captain Mauro Icardi.

The Argentine has developed into one of world football’s finest striking talents, but that wasn’t deemed good enough for Sampaoli’s rigorous selection process.

How can we live in a world where 29 goals in Serie A isn’t good enough for a seat on the plane?

Serie A’s best

Mauro Icardi has tough competition in the Italian Serie A, battling with compatriots Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, who ply their trade for champions Juventus. Dybala netted 22 goals, second only to Icardi and Lazio’s Ciro Immobile (29), whilst Higuain bagged himself 16, a reduction on the 24 he scored in 2016/17.

Therefore, Higuain arguably had a worse season this year than he did previously and still earned a call-up to the World Cup. What’s more, his ‘better’ season, in which he scored 24 goals, wasn’t as good as Icardi’s campaign for Inter in 2017/18.

REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

Not even the likes of Luis Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Samuel Eto’o could match Icardi’s impressive goal-scoring record this season. His fantastic record of 100 goals in 159 Serie A outings for Inter is just another testament to his quality.

Higuain has scored 111 goals in 177 appearances for Napoli and Juventus since arriving in Italy in the 2013/14 season at a rate of 0.63 goals per game. Icardi’s goals scored per game in the same time period -he moved to Inter in 2013/14- equates to 0.63, too.

But why is it Higuain was selected?

Icardi’s issues

Despite an impressive goal-scoring record, Icardi’s behaviour off the pitch is somewhat questionable. 

He began a relationship with Maxi Lopez’s wife -his former teammate at Sampdoria- before ultimately marrying her once the scandal was exposed. The scandalous nature of the marriage has consequently subjected him to rumours by the Argentine tabloid press.

There was, too, Icardi’s autobiography Sempre Avanti (Always Forward), which included a controversial chapter that offended Inter’s ultra fans. Ultras demanded that he leave the club, though official punishment resulted in a fine and the redaction of that particular chapter.

It’s argued that the constant media circus trailing in shadows has led to his systematic exclusion from the Argentine national team by previous managers.

Sampaoli’s tactics

Boss Sampaoli was keen to express the reasoning behind his decision as purely tactical, however. 

We came to this list after long and meticulous analysis… The players I called up identify with our style of play as closely as possible. – Sampaoli discussing his World Cup squad.

The former Sevilla boss could deploy a 4-1-3-2 formation, with the emphasis on the creative playmaking talents of the advanced midfield three, likely comprising players such as Messi, Angel Di Maria, Christian Pavon and Dybala.

This leaves just Aguero, who has consistently suffered from injury, and Higuain, who has proven himself to misfire in big games due to confidence issues, as the two strikers. Having Icardi takes less pressure off Messi and doesn’t create a situation in which Argentina are reliant on only two strikers in a two-striker formation.

Therefore, Icardi would add significantly more value to Argentina’s squad.



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Oli Stein

Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_

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