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Contract rebel Icardi set for long-awaited Inter return

Milan (AFP) – Inter Milan forward Mauro Icardi will return to action on Wednesday after nearly two months out amid off-pitch drama over contract talks as the Serie A club battle for Champions League football next season, coach Luciano Spalletti confirmed on Tuesday.

The Argentina striker was stripped of the captain’s armband on February 13 amid negotiations played out on social media and TV via Icardi’s wife and agent Wanda Nara, and hasn’t played since Inter beat Parma a few days before.

He was also left out of the weekend’s 1-0 home defeat to fellow Champions league chasers Lazio as punishment for the row, which on Sunday Spalletti described as “humiliating”, despite rumours he would play.

“The conditions are now right for Mauro to help the team again,” Spalletti told a press conference ahead of Wednesday’s game against Genoa.

“He’ll play from the start because he’s displayed the right reaction. 

“He’s trained well in the past few days, and if a player is in the squad they’re able to lend the team a hand. 

“Blood, sweat and tears are needed when you play for our colours.”

Inter’s chances of Champions League football have taken a dent after returning to the elite European competition this season after seven years away.

The three-time European champions are third in Serie A — 25 points behind leaders Juventus and 10 adrift of second-placed Napoli, but just two points ahead of fourth-placed AC Milan. Lazio, Atalanta and Roma lurk behind them.

Spalletti justified leaving Icardi out of the defeat to Lazio by saying that “(Lionel) Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo make the difference, not Icardi” to a team.

“I had to say something to defend the team,” he explained.

“Mauro’s able to drag the team forward when he’s in it. From the outside, no. In these last few training sessions and without sending messages on social media, he’s regained his place in the squad.”

But it remains to be seen whether the fans are ready to forgive their former captain, who has been the club’s top scorer for the past four seasons.

On Tuesday, Inter’s hardcore fan groups came together to issue a joint statement, urging: “Icardi, get out!”.

“Icardi has shown that he does not possess the necessary character not only to wear the captain’s armband, but also to build a future and unite the dressing room,” the statement said.

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