Outcasted by Conte, hated by fans – Icardi’s long, bitter divorce from Inter

The relationship between the club and the Argentine has been broken for months now but this sorry affair looks set to drag on for a few more weeks yet

Denial, devastation, bitterness and blame games – break-ups are never easy. Even in football.

Former Inter president Massimo Moratti certainly experienced the full spectrum of emotions when his beloved Ronaldo decided he wanted to leave for Real Madrid in 2002.

Moratti, like most Nerazzurri fans, felt betrayed, used almost. They had stood by the Brazilian during the preceding three injury-ravaged seasons.

Yet after returning to full fitness to fire Brazil to World Cup glory, Ronaldo had his head turned by Madrid.

He didn’t even inform Moratti of his desire to leave face to face, leaving his agent to do the honours instead. Moratti was, thus, left in state of shock.

“I haven’t heard from Ronaldo; the declaration has come from third parties,” the Nerazzurri owner told reporters. “Until I speak to Ronaldo, I don’t believe it.”

Ronaldo eventually went public with his desire to move on. Moratti was furious, and defiant.

“Do you want to know how this story is going to end?” he told the Gazzetta dello Sport . “Ronaldo will play one more year for us, against his will, and then he will leave whether we win something or not. Just watch!”

Ronaldo walked out Inter on the final day of the 2002 summer transfer window – never to return.

His frayed relationship with Hector Cuper had essentially been the cause of his unhappiness in Milan.

“With him [Cuper], there wasn’t any feeling, I couldn’t work with him,” Ronaldo told Corriere della Sera .

“He wasn’t able to give the team a winning mentality. In time, I was confirmed right.”

In time, though, Ronaldo was also racked with regrets. He knew that he had erred in essentially issuing Moratti an ultimatum.

“The moment that I asked him to sack Cuper or risk having me leave, Moratti chose Cuper,” the striking icon explained. “That’s why I wouldn’t do it again.

“Instead, I’d try to get my point across in another manner.”

It certainly would have spared Moratti a lot of stress and pain. He was heartbroken by the whole affair. It was years before they reconciled.

So, when Moratti says that Inter’s crumbling relationship with Mauro Icardi is “more complicated and delicate than anything I had to deal with during my time in charge”, one begins to appreciate the toxicity of the current situation at San Siro.

This is arguably the most bitter and most drawn-out divorce in football history.

The relationship has long been strained – Icardi’s autobiography, ‘Sempre Avanti’, bemused the club and infuriated Inter’s most hardcore supporters, who labelled him “a vile piece of sh*t” because of his disputed take on a clash with fans after a defeat at Sassuolo in 2015 – but it essentially collapsed the moment the club suddenly stripped the striker of the captaincy on February 13 of this year.

The Nerazzurri have never explained precisely why the decision was made but it is believed that it was because Icardi’s wife – and agent – Wanda publicly criticised some of her husband’s team-mates on television, thus spawning a five-month soap opera featuring claims and counter-claims, and even a temporary ceasefire.

After refusing to play in Inter’s Europa League clash with Rapid Vienna on February 14, Icardi spent the next seven weeks sidelined by a knee injury, the veracity of which was contested by the club.

He eventually returned to the field in April, 53 days after his previous appearance, and marked his comeback with a goal and an assist against Genoa.

It was obvious, though, that Icardi and Inter hadn’t made up. Confirmation of that came last week when sporting director Beppe Marotta and new coach Antonio Conte confirmed at a joint-press conference that the Argentine would not be a part of their plans for the new season.

“We’re ready to negotiate with anyone who wants to buy Icardi, respecting the value of this player,” Marotta admitted.

Conte, rather revealingly, added that the decision to dispense with Icardi pre-dated his arrival.

“The club had enough time to evaluate the situation,” the former Chelsea boss stated. “All I did was back the club’s vision. Coach and club should work as one and we are totally unified on this.”

Which means there is no way back for Icardi at Inter, making this quite the fall from grace for a man who took enormous pride and pleasure out of captaining the Nerazzurri.

Whatever one’s views on his character or leadership skills, he was Inter’s talisman for many years. They would have been lost without his goals.

However, there is no denying that the situation has been horribly handled by both Maurito and Wanda.

“We’re all bad guys in a badly-told story,” she recently wrote on Instagram, insinuating that she and her spouse have been unfairly maligned by the press.

But the very fact that she again chose to air her grievances in public only highlighted one of the principal gripes Inter have with the social media-loving couple.

The Nerazzurri have essentially had enough of their dirty linen being washed in public and the big question now is what happens to Icardi next?

Atletico Madrid are interested but the Argentine has no desire to leave Italy, while his wife is expected to renew her contract with the TV show Tiki Taka for another season.

Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri would like to sign a proven Serie A goalscorer that he previously pursued during his time in charge of Napoli, particularly now that the Icardi’s price has depreciated significantly since the turn of the year. The player would also embrace a move to Turin as it would mean not having to uproot his family in Milan.

However, Juve must first find new homes for Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain in order to create space for a striker they would have acquired last year had it not been for the surprise availability of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti has also been credited with an interest but the Partenopei’s focus is on concluding a complicated deal with Real Madrid for James Rodriguez. In addition, club president Aurelio De Laurentiis has ruled out even sitting down at the same table as Icardi and his wife.

“I met Wanda three years ago,” he told Radio Kiss Kiss, “and I have no intention of meeting her again.”

“That meeting was enough. Also because Icardi is not a part of the current needs of Napoli.”

He’s certainily not part of Inter’s either, having now left out of the club’s pre-season preparations and sent back to Milan to train on his own.

Marotta has refused to entertain the idea of the player still being at Inter come the start of the new season but there is no immediate transfer in the offing.

It’s clear that Icardi and Inter are going their separate ways but it could still be another few weeks before this messiest of divorces is finalised.

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