Despite appearing to be firmly in Jorge Sampaoli’s plans at the tail-end of Argentina’s fraught World Cup qualifying campaign, Mauro Icardi could now be the unlucky man on the outside looking in ahead of Russia.
In an interview with Olé and the excellent Hernán Claus, the prolific Inter captain speaks about his hopes for the World Cup, his relationships with Lionel Messi and the squad and a number of other topics.
How important is it to have had your best season [at club level] before the World Cup?
I don’t take into account that it is before the World Cup. I focus on what I do and that is for the club. The rewards come later.
Some think you’re out [of the squad], others think you have a chance, what do you feel?
I always try and do my best for Inter as I have done for five years. I think that those that will go to the World Cup are those who are at their best moment.
In recent years you have been among the top scorers in Europe. Don’t you feel like you are at the right moment and the right age to go to your first World Cup?
Yes, it could be. I’m 25 years old, the captain of Inter for three years and I entered into the club’s history books with my goals. I dream of playing at the World Cup, whether it be now or in the future. I have that conviction and if it isn’t now, it will be later.
In the coming days you will meet again with Sampaoli. What did he tell you when you last spoke in January?
We spoke about our feelings from our short time with the national team.
Did you think you did well in those games that you started for Argentina?
I don’t know if I came in at the best time for the team, with the pressure we were under. But I did what the coaching staff asked me to do. The truth is, I am very happy to have been a part of qualifying for the World Cup.
Aside from not being able to score, what was lacking from what you usually do?
I think I just lacked time.
Do you think not scoring could have you seen you lose your place at the World Cup?
No, I think who will be selected is a technical decision. As I always say, those have are in their best moment at the time.
Argentina can be cruel on its goal scorers. If you do not score, then it’s hard to get another chance. Is there too much pressure on the number nines?
No, I think Argentina gives second chances. I am calm in that sense. From the outside or from inside, I am with the group.
Is it good that Agüero and Higuaín are center-forwards for the National Team?
Yes, they are the most senior.
But with them almost certain of a place in the squad, is there space for you?
I don’t think about that. I know them, I value then and they stand out as footballers and teammates. They deserve to be there and if they are chosen, we must support them and trust them at the World Cup. Sampaoli knows that this is a great responsibility and that our role on the pitch is decisive. He also knows what I am about. In or out of the squad, I still feel the same and I am with my teammates.
Did Kun’s injury take you by surprise?
The only thing I hope is that he recovers soon, because he has the same dream as everyone and the responsibility and pride to wear this shirt, which is the best.
It seemed like many of the senior figures in the squad wanted Higuain back and so it was. How do you feel about that? Is it natural because of the relationships between those players?
Higuaín has scored a lot of goals for Argentina and at his respective clubs. He is a world class striker and he deserves it for sure.
When you were selected, did not being part of the group cost you?
It’s nothing. I have a very good relationship with everyone. Whatever was said, it never affected me.
A lot was said about your absence from the friendlies in Russia after qualifying, especially as you were also injured in Australia but stayed with the group. Should you have gone if you couldn’t play?
I went to Australia injured because the season in Italy was over and I still wanted to accompany the team. For the games in Russia, it was better to look after myself following conversations with the coaching staff and the medical team because I had a knee injury. Going to Russia and not having everything required to make a full recovery didn’t make any sense.
How was your relationship with Messi?
Fine, like with everyone. I believe that non-existent controversies are created sometimes. Leo and I share the same dream.
You have several photos with Messi on your Instagram. Do you have any anecdotes?
The truth is what we talked about or any anecdotes I have, I keep as memories.
Like Messi, not playing in Argentina, you do not have that connection with supporters from a club. That link is far stronger with supporters of European football. Does that weigh on you?
No, I’ve never felt it because if anyone gave me the strength to return to play for the national team, it was the people, the Argentinians. It is something that fills me with pride and makes me even more committed when it comes to wearing this shirt.
You must meet many Argentinians in Italy. Do they also ask for you in the national team?
Yes, all the Argentinians I meet show me their love and their desire to see me wearing the shirt of our country.
And the Inter fans? What do they say?
They just ask me sometimes why I am not in the squad. They see what I do for the team and they want to see me playing for the national team.
Messi nor Sampaoli see Argentina as one of the favourites in Russia. Do you think the same?
I think that if we do things right and produce our best at a good time, we can’t be afraid of any team. We also have the best player in the world playing for us and so for sure, for the other teams, we are a team to fear.
After scoring four goals against Sampdoria you said it was good that you hadn’t been called for the Italy and Spain friendlies. Why was that?
Because I am someone who believes that the national team belongs to everyone and that’s why the best players have to go when they are their best. At time, I hadn’t been playing for my club because of a slight injury and then I recovered and was able to score those four goals against Sampdoria.
And how was it, watching the 6-1 defeat to Spain from the outside?
I felt the same as everyone but with an added sense of helplessness from not being there. I was unable to contribute my little grain of sand. Argentina deserves to be at the top and not suffer these type of blows.
What message would you give to Argentina for this World Cup?
We deserve it. Knowing what I know from within the group and the dreams I am sure that Sampaoli and the players are going to give their lives to achieve it. I have no doubt that they will give their best to return to the country with the trophy.
How about your attitude towards fame?
It is part of my job. I don’t go to events and I am not a media player. I don’t do interviews other than those scheduled by the club and I think people get confused between this low profile and perhaps with me posting photos on social media.
I like to do normal things not related to game. I think that the day I finish with football I will dedicate myself completely to my family.
There is talk of another Argentinian striker joining you at Inter, Lautaro Martínez. What are the chances?
Yes, Lautaro is a great player who is having a very good moment. I hope for the good of Inter and everyone that he can adapt in Italy in the best way, for the good of him and the team.
What do you see in Lautaro Martínez?
He is in a great moment and in the event that he comes to Inter, he will find someone who will help him with everything he needs.