When your own fans greet you with a banner calling you a clown and a turd and ask you to never wear the captain's armband ever again, you know you've screwed up. Big time.
Inter striker Mauro Icardi has had a colorful and controversial enough career even before you get into the Wanda Nara business. But on Sunday, things spiraled into a wholly different sphere after Icardi published a book that both Inter's hardcore fans and the club objected to in the most strenuous way.
Where to begin?
If you're going to criticize your own club's hardcore fans, it's probably not a good idea to throw in a story that nobody else seems to remember and that the Ultras assume is entirely made up. That would be the one where after a defeat away to Sassuolo in February 2015, Icardi strips to his underwear to give a young supporter his jersey and shorts only for a nasty Ultras leader to rip it out of the child's hands and chuck it back at the Inter striker. The child bursts out in tears because he's denied Icardi's jersey, and Icardi goes bananas.
The Ultras say that never happened. There are TV pictures of Icardi screaming and shouting and throwing his jersey but no sign of a small child. Icardi himself would later apologize via social media and say he was only telling the story as he remembered it, which rather makes you wonder whether he has a whole alternative history that he remembers as well. Like maybe one where he has won so much silverware at Inter that it justifies writing an autobiography at age 23.
His book also talks about how when he returned to the dressing room his teammates hailed him as a hero because he had stood up to the Ultras and did not take their criticism. Again, according to reports in Monday's Gazzetta dello Sport, more than one Inter player and official remembers things rather differently.
Icardi went on to say that he was so wound up that when he returned to the dressing room after his confrontation with the Ultras, club officials were worried about his safety.
"I'm ready to take them one by one!" he said, according to his book. "Maybe they don't know that I grew up in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in South America, with people getting killed on the streets! How many [Ultras] are there? Fifty? One-hundred? Two-hundred? OK, go tell them -- and I want you to record this -- I'm going to fly over 100 criminals from Argentina and they'll kill them all instantly! And then we'll see..."
Now, I don't know who talks like this in real life, much less who would write something like this about his own supporters while still at the club. And, as an aside, Icardi's false memory issues run further than the imaginary child. He didn't "grow up" in a high-crime South American urban badlands -- unless he's referring to the time before he turned 9 years old, because that's when he and his family left Rosario for the Canary Islands in Spain.
Maybe, just maybe, you can see how in a moment of blind range you might say something this stupid. But what sort of person would then repeat it in print 18 months later?
Amid all this, what strikes you most is the absurdity of one of the world's best strikers (and a guy in whom enormous amounts of money are invested) being left to himself to make his own decisions. Was there really nobody -- a friend, a lawyer, an agent, Wanda -- to tell him that putting all this in print was a really, really bad idea?
Inter aren't blameless here either. They knew he was writing a book, they knew he has a history of poor judgment at the very least you'd have thought they might have said "Hey Mauro, for your sake and ours, how about we give your masterpiece a once-over before it goes off to print?"
Inter announced on Monday afternoon that he would be fined for "contravening the club's internal regulations" and Icardi issued an apology. Icardi described his words as "written in haste," that the "tone wasn't appropriate" and he was "sorry that the Inter fans got caught up in all this."
The Ultras had said they were prepared to give Icardi a pass if he apologised more fully than he has already done, withdraws his book from sale and relinquishes the captain's armband. Those aren't wholly unreasonable requests, but it's important that Inter, as a club, remembered that Icardi works for them, not for the Ultras.
Like all supporters, the Ultras have a role to play, but they should be influencing and lobbying club policy, not dictating it. His book won't be withdrawn, but subsequent editions won't feature the incriminating passages. The club did not address the captaincy issue in the statement and while plenty of Italian media are saying he'll keep the armband, the decision should simply rest -- as it technically always has -- with the manager, Frank De Boer.
Brutal as it sounds, Inter needed to think of Icardi as an asset to be protected. And at the same time they need to show respect to their supporters, especially the ones who've stuck with them during some pretty hideous years.
It's a fine line to walk. As for Icardi, you hope he snaps out of it. He's 23, but he's also a dad and a professional. If he can't make good decisions, he should at least invest in someone to do it for him.
Guardiola tries yet another formation
Pep Guardiola was bullish after Manchester City's 1-1 home draw with Everton. Rather than despairing over the two points dropped, he noted how they had played very well, and only two missed penalties and a monster save by Maarten Stekelenburg denied them the win.
He's right. It's not a case of the Premier League "figuring out" City. Not yet, anyway. Ronald Koeman's Everton took a wholly different approach to the one used by Tottenham (and, before that, Celtic). They sat deep, clogged the space and looked to break. And City still created plenty of chances.
The more interesting wrinkle about this game was Guardiola's shift to a back three, with Gael Clichy joining Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones. Clichy doesn't seem like an obvious choice -- and in fact was out-muscled by Romelu Lukaku for Everton's goal -- but the back-three option might be something worth revisiting.
What's startling at this stage is how many different looks and formations Guardiola has already employed this season. And it's only mid-October.
Barca shrug off injuries in big win
Defeated in their past La Liga game; Messi unlikely to start; an eye ahead to the visit of Manchester City; the post-international break FIFA virus; Sergi Roberto injured and Aleix Vidal in the doghouse -- there were some who saw the visit of Deportivo La Coruna like a potential banana skin for Barcelona.
So much for that notion. Rafinha stepped up big time, offering at once creativity and poise, while Neymar played the Messi role up front. And, of course, Messi himself found time to come on and score because, hey, that's what he does. There's only so much you're going to learn from a 4-0 win -- the talent gap is huge, after all -- but it does give Barca a bounce in their step ahead of Pep Guardiola's return.
Time for PSG to stop the leaks?
Paris St Germain overcame Nancy, 2-1, to stay four points behind table-topping Nice in Ligue 1, but post-game headlines were dominated by Thiago Silva's frustration at what he called a "mole" in the dressing room. Referring to the sheer amount of private conversations, team news and internal controversies that made their way out into the media, he said "it is incredible so much of this sort of thing gets out."
As long as there are fans who are interested and reporters doing their jobs, there will be leaks at football clubs. Between players, club officials, family members of players and agents, there will always be someone to leak. The question is to what degree this happens.
In PSG's case, it has been happening for a long time, since well before the Qataris arrived at the club. I know for a fact that it shocked at least one former PSG coach. If the club are serious about fixing this, it really should not be too hard to crack the pattern.
Walcott really is "like a new signing" for Arsenal
Arsenal beat Swansea 3-2 on Saturday and Theo Walcott played pretty much like the kind of guy many thought he would be a decade ago. He was quick, hungry and lethal, though maybe not quite as clinical -- witness the chances he missed -- as some would like him to be.
Still, there is no question that we witnessed the version of Theo that almost can't be defended, the one Arsene Wenger saw in his head so many moons ago. The question is: At what point you start to believe that it's worth thinking about him as a regular? It's worth asking because there have been so many false starts in the past.
In his first 10 seasons at Arsenal, Walcott started 147 games, came off the bench 97 times and watched from the dugout or the stands or the treatment room on another 136 occasions. Blame injuries, blame loss of form, blame the guy who planted the seed in his head that he belongs up front rather than out wide.
This year, however, he has started every single Premier League game. And while at the start of the season it may have been partly down to others being injured, now, judging by Saturday's lineup, he's ahead of guys like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lucas Perez. We'll see what happens when Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud are all fit and available, but as it stands, he's repaying Wenger's trust.
It's a horrendously loaded cliche -- and when it comes to Arsenal, there's also baggage there -- but right now Walcott is very much "like a new signing."
Atletico's full-backs continue to excel
Atletico Madrid stay top of La Liga after an emphatic 7-1 win over cellar-dwelling Granada, with Yannick Carrasco notching the first hat-trick of his career. The game was actually moderately close until the break, with Granada actually taking the lead before Diego Simeone's men ran rampant in the second-half.
As has been the case in previous games, what stood out is the tremendous performance of the full-backs, Juanfran and Filipe Luis. Full-backs, in theory, are supposed to tail off when they hit 30, but those two (both 31) are going as strong as any pairing in Europe.
Isco's dilemma is obvious at Real Madrid
Isco rather proved what many have long been saying: stick him in a central position, play him from the first minute and he's devastating. Betis didn't provide too much opposition in Real Madrid's 6-1 away victory and Zinedine Zidane's crew, despite the absences of Casemiro, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric, took a 4-0 lead and never looked back.
For much of the summer, Isco was rumored to be on his way out, and it wasn't hard to figure out why. He's neither a spark plug off the bench nor a jack-of-all-trades who can fill in out wide when necessary. Hand him the keys of the team, though, and he shines. The problem is that he'll never get the keys to run this Real Madrid side because there are simply too many guys ahead of him. Either he reinvents himself or waits for enough stars to leave that Zidane builds the team around him -- or he moves on.
Napoli shouldn't panic despite Roma defeat
Roma jumped up to second place in Serie A with a huge 3-1 win away to Napoli. Call it a Luciano Spalletti special. Sometimes managers do more harm than good. Sometimes they just pick their best guys and let them go at it. Sometimes there are guys who can pull a master class out of the hat.
Saturday was all about the latter. Spalletti got Radja Nainggolan to harass Jorginho into oblivion, unleashed Alessandro Florenzi, Mohamed Salah and Diego Perotti down the flanks and kept Juan Jesus -- essentially a center-back playing full-back -- deep, proving that there's no reason your team should be symmetrical. Edin Dzeko, enjoying his best season in years, did the rest.
For Napoli, the risk is that this result will lead to despair, gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair due to the long-term absence of Arkadiusz Milik. It's true that Milik is a fine player who was on a scoring tear. And yes, his replacement Manolo Gabbiadini was poor. But there are some 10 weeks to go before the window opens. The job now is to get Gabbiadini, the only viable center-forward left, to produce as best he can. The skill set is there. What he doesn't need is talk of who will come in as soon as the transfer window opens.
Bayern feel like a team without identity
It's now three straight games without a win for Carlo Ancelotti's Bayern, but Saturday's 2-2 draw away to Eintracht Frankfurt may well have been the ugliest of the bunch. Bayern took the lead twice and twice Eintracht equalized, the second with the hosts down to 10 men. "I need to make changes," Ancelotti said after the game. "We slept throughout that first half."
Indeed, the first 45 minutes were as bad as Bayern have played in a long time. It was Eintracht who created more chances as the Bavarians looked flaccid and almost disinterested. Business picked up a bit after the break when Renato Sanches came on for Xabi Alonso, but this still felt like a side without an identity.
Injuries and absences mean we still don't know what exactly Ancelotti has in mind, especially in the front six. With Robert Lewandowski, Douglas Costa and Frank Ribery in the starting XI, you'd imagine Bayern would look different. Or, at least, you'd hope they would because it can't get much worse than that first half in Frankfurt.
RB Leipzig continue to pick up points
Don't look now, but they keep rolling on. Newly promoted RB Leipzig faced a tricky away test against a Wolfsburg side desperate to turn things around after a poor start. It was a fun contrast in styles, with Ralf Hasenhuttl's high-tempo hocus pocus pitted against Dieter Hecking's old-school approach.
The hipsters won this one 1-0 thanks to a gorgeous finish from Emil Forsberg, who earlier had also produced one of the worse penalty misses you're likely to see this season. RB Leipzig are still undefeated in the Bundesliga (or, for that matter, in Bundesliga history given that this is their first season in the top flight) and thus far, they're living up to the billing.
Juve can't always rely on Dybala
He may say otherwise but it's pretty obvious Max Allegri was looking past the visit of Udinese and on to the Champions' League this week. So were far too many Juve players.
Allegri fielded a team with Leo Bonucci, Gonzalo Higuain, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic on the bench, and the upshot was a side that handed the initiative over to Udinese who right now are dangerously close to the drop zone. They went a goal down following a mistake from Gigi Buffon ("He did it on purpose to wake us up" joked Allegri -- at least you hope it was a joke) and then needed Paulo Dybala in superstar mood to turn things around with both goals in Juve's 2-1 win.
Dybala was exceptional and, to be fair, he's kicked on from even last season when he was devastating. He may be even more important as an attacking weapon than Higuain right now. The three points are what matters most -- Juve are five clear at the top -- but Allegri ought to heed the warning: You don't get very far simply waiting for your superstar to do something.