Icardi hat trick repairs rocky relationship with ‘ultras’

Inter Milan's Mauro Icardi celebrates after scoring during the Serie A soccer match between Inter Milan and AC Milan, at the Milan San Siro Stadium, Italy, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

ROME (AP) Mauro Icardi may have finally repaired his rocky relationship with Inter Milan’s hard-core ”ultra” fans.

A year after offending the ultras in his autobiography, Icardi won back the supporters in style by scoring a hat trick – including a decisive 90th-minute penalty – in the Milan derby.

It was the one type of performance missing in a career marked by constant goals and nearly as frequent controversy.

After joining Barcelona at 15, he made his Serie A debut at 19 and led the Italian league in scoring with 22 goals in 2014-15.

Married to Wanda Nera, the ex-wife of former Sampdoria teammate Maxi Lopez, Icardi’s personal life is often ridiculed, though.

As is his character.

It was widely seen as a contract bonus when Icardi was named Inter captain in 2015 shortly after signing a new four-year contract. He came in for more criticism after missing a penalty and potential equalizer in a 2016 derby that AC Milan went on to win 3-0.

The ultras then cheered when Icardi missed a penalty against Cagliari last season shortly after the publication of his autobiography.

In the book, Icardi threatened to bring ”100 criminals from Argentina” to kill the ultras.

Inter fined Icardi for the offending passages and forced him to remove the incendiary comments from the autobiography.

While Icardi scored a career-high 24 goals in 34 matches last season – including his first career score in the Milan derby, a 2-2 draw in April – his performance did nothing to prevent Inter from finishing seventh and missing out on Europe.

Even this season, Icardi faced criticism entering the derby with his previous goal in open play coming against Roma in August.

”I do my talking on the field,” Icardi said.

On Sunday, Icardi became the first player to score a hat trick in the Milan derby since Diego Milito achieved the feat for Inter in May 2012.

After two predatory goals, each with a single touch, Icardi copied Lionel Messi’s iconic goal celebration after scoring the winner by taking his No. 9 shirt off and holding it up to the crowd.

”It’s a special joy that can’t be explained,” said Icardi, who earned a rare ”9” (out of 10) in the Gazzetta dello Sport’s report card for the match.

Icardi also stood out against Roma, scoring twice to overturn Roma’s first-half lead and help Inter to a 3-1 win.

”Icardi lives for goals. But when he doesn’t score, he works for the team,” newly signed Inter midfielder Matias Vecino said.

Icardi has nine goals in eight matches this season and leads Europe’s top five leagues with an average of only 20.33 touches per score, according to the Gazzetta.

”He’s getting better match by match and seems to still have big margins to improve in every aspect,” Milito said.

”He’s lethal in the area and shows a lot of intelligence in terms of when to strike,” Milito added. ”He’s got a great feeling for the goal and once he’s there in the center the defender is hardly ever able to understand or neutralize Mauro’s movements.”

At 24, Icardi is entering his prime and is also looking to improve his status with Argentina ahead of next year’s World Cup.

Icardi has played rarely for his national team and was left out for more than three years before Jorge Sampaoli called him up again earlier this year. He didn’t appear in either of Argentina’s two qualifiers this month.

Next up for Icardi and unbeaten Inter is a visit to Serie A leader Napoli, which has a perfect eight wins from eight matches.

While Napoli was expected to contend for the title, Inter’s second-place position is a surprise.

New coach Luciano Spalletti has quickly restored order among the Nerazzurri after a tumultuous campaign in which Inter struggled through four managerial changes, including Roberto Mancini’s surprise resignation two weeks before the season began.

Inter hasn’t won Serie A since Jose Mourinho and Milito guided the club to a treble in 2010.

”The first objective is to qualify for the Champions League,” Vecino said. ”So at least fourth place.”

If Icardi keeps his form up, however, bigger goals might be within reach.

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf