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Adam DigbyFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2017

Speak to anyone with a passing interest in Italian football and they’ll have a strong opinion on Mauro Icardi. Most of them will be negative, and that is undoubtedly understandable as the striker has fallen out with team-mates past and present, even dividing the feelings Inter Milan supporters have of him.

“He’s dangerously talented, as Juventus have experienced,” Gugs—a fan of the Bianconeri—told Bleacher Report. “But he’s more famous for his private life, his affair and his book. He’s completely classless and sets a bad example. Those are not the actions of a captain.”

AC Milan supporter Gino echoed those thoughts, saying that Icardi “is unquestionably talented and could be a great player, but he lacks conviction, and his off-field antics are spoken about more than his performances on the pitch.”

But then you get comments like this. “He’s incredible,” Liverpool fan Michael said when asked for his opinion of Icardi. “I’d love to see him play at Anfield, he’s exactly the type of player we’re crying out for.”

Explaining how the 24-year-old became so polarising is quite simple, all you have to do is look back over the course of his career and discuss his journey from Rosario youngster to captain of the Milanese giants.

His parents left Argentina when Icardi was just six years old; his family moved to the Canary Islands in order to escape the financial crisis engulfing their homeland. Three years later he enrolled in the youth team of Spanish side Union Deportiva Vecindario, going on to score a frankly ridiculous 384 goals over six seasons with the club.

That prompted Barcelona to sign him in ahead of the 2008/09 campaign, with Icardi slowly making his way through the ranks at La Masia. However, with Pep Guardiola fully committed to changing the culture throughout the club, it quickly became clear that there would be no place for an out-and-out goalscorer.

If the coach couldn’t find space for Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he carefully made tiki-taka the central philosophy at Camp Nou, what chance did an unproven teenager have of breaking into the side?

“I have no regrets about leaving Barcelona. If a youngster wants to grow then certain decisions have to be made,” Icardi told El Blog de Mario Garcia de la Santa (h/t Goal). “At the time I spoke about it with my father, and we decided to move to Italy.”

So in January 2011 he moved to Sampdoria for €400,000, netting 13 goals in 19 games for their Primavera (under-19) side and making his first-team debut. The Genoa-based club were promoted to Serie A the following summer, and it was shortly after that when Maxi Lopez became his team-mate.

The arrival of another Argentinian, even one nine years older than him, helped ease Icardi’s homesickness. Lopez—who had also failed to find real space at Barcelona—welcoming him into his family home and introducing him to his then-wife, Wanda Nara.

His new friend helped him adapt to life in Italy and taught him how to improve as a player, with Icardi adding a much-improved work rate to his incredible eye for goal. His first full season with Sampdoria saw him net 10 times in Serie A, including two in a famous win at Juventus Stadium and four more in a 6-0 rout of Pescara.

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