Times are changing for Argentina and the future is uncertain. After the oldest average squad in Russia bombed out of the World Cup in the last 16, interim coach Lionel Scaloni is overseeing something of a rebirth and with the average age already driven down to a shade over 25, former international outcast Mauro Icardi is one of the more experienced members of the group.
Only 25 himself, Icardi is hardly the wise, experienced veteran for the youngsters to learn from and his paltry six Argentina appearances are testament to that. However, the Inter captain has a wealth of senior experience in Europe, has already twice been Serie A’s Capocannoniere and is one of the few in Scaloni’s squad with genuine star quality.
This brings with it a degree of responsibility and in the absence of Lionel Messi and the generation of what-might-have-beens, Icardi assumes something of a leaders role.
A prolific goalscorer in Italy, it’s not been an easy start to life in an Argentina shirt for Icardi and the 25-year-old is desperate to celebrate his first international goal.
“I hope it comes now,” Icardi told reporters at the Ezeiza training complex on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
“I hope it is soon but I am calm about that.”
And despite increasing pressure for Icardi to bring his club form to Argentina, the number nine is right to remain at ease for now.
“I started this season at Inter without scoring goals, and in Italy that topic was also discussed … I am the striker, the one who has to make the goals, and I try here with the National Team to look for that and give my best.”
Forced to wait more than three years after his debut under Alejandro Sabella in 2013, Icardi was handed an opportunity by Jorge Sampaoli but with Argentina facing a battle to qualify for the World Cup, the environment to produce was less than ideal.
A couple of misfiring qualifiers saw Icardi drop down the pecking order once more and despite making Sampaoli’s preliminary squad there was no space on the plane to Russia.
The position has been dominated by Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Agüero in recent years and while returns for either haven’t been ruled out, Argentina have time on their side to allow a new team to grow. Next year’s Copa América is viewed by many of the South American nations as an opportunity to experiment and it leaves plenty of time before the lengthy 2022 qualification process begins.
“We are all new and the air has changed a bit, we are young guys who have started this adventure and we are happy and proud to represent the country,” Icardi said.
No one represents this more than caretaker manager Lionel Scaloni, currently trying to impress the AFA enough to be given the job on a permanent basis.
What the 40-year-old may lack in experience he certainly makes up for in confidence and since his appointment has spoken with the authority of a coach in no mood to keep the seat warm for someone else.
Victories over Guatemala and Iraq, a draw with Colombia and a narrow defeat to Brazil have shown signs of promise and Icardi is among those impressed by Scaloni.
“Scaloni is a coach who has had very few games with the national team but he puts a lot of passion and enthusiasm into his work. He wants things to go well and I’m happy about that. He deserves this opportunity given to him.
“We have had some good games. Who knows if from here to March or to the Copa América he continues.”
Mexico are the latest test and Icardi will likely feature either on Friday in Córdoba or when Scaloni’s squad move to Mendoza for a second fixture against the same opponents.
“Personally, it is a nice experience, even though they are only friendlies, they help us to continue with what we have been doing. I am happy to return to the country as I haven’t been back for a while.
“I hope there are good games ahead of the Copa América because there are only the March friendlies before that. We still have not reached our goal but we are creating something very nice and we are doing our best to reach the Copa América in the best shape.”
Icardi will certainly need a goal before then to ensure he is Argentina’s number nine in Brazil but whoever is in charge, whatever the squad looks like, the Copa América is a step on a much longer path toward 2022 and beyond.
A route that Icardi is determined to walk. “I dream of winning a World Cup, the dream that I have since I was a child. I want to do well to get to the World Cup in Qatar, but first we have to think about Copa América.”