Mauro Icardi's Milan derby winner epitomised the art of being a true No.9 3 years ago

Mauro Icardi's Milan derby winner epitomised the art of being a true No.9

These days, it seems footballers are constantly getting 'sent back' (sometimes 'sent right back') to their birthplace or former clubs, simply by falling victim to an extravagant piece of skill.

You know the sort of thing - Ousmane Dembele slips as he chases down Kylian Mbappe in France training, and he's 'sent back to Rennes'. Neymar is wrong-footed by a Sadio Mane step-over - 'sent right back to Santos'.


The same thing happened to AC Milan defender Mateo Musacchio in the dying seconds of the Milan derby on Sunday evening. This time, though, there was no step-over to be seen, no fancy trick or flick. Instead, the Argentine was 'sent back to River Plate' by a clever piece of movement from one of his countrymen.

If you watched Mauro Icardi's stoppage-time winner for Inter on telly your laptop, you'll appreciate that the main camera angle doesn't quite do it justice. Matías Vecino's deep cross from the right touchline picks him out perfectly and, with Gianluigi Donnarumma misjudging the flight of the ball, the striker has the relatively simple task of nodding home.

How Icardi engineers the space, leaving Musacchio on his arse on the San Siro turf, isn't quite so obvious. That only becomes apparent when you see it from the viewpoint of one of the cameras behind the goal.

The footage that follows is nearly a minute long, beginning with Icardi waiting for a free-kick to be taken inside the Inter half. It's only after the 30-second mark that we see the striker break into a gentle trot towards the Milan goal, sensing for the first time that an opportunity might come his way.


Musacchio marks him tightly as he approaches the edge of the penalty area. Then, as Vecino's cross comes in, Icardi springs to life. Having stayed just in the periphery of Mussachio's eye-line, he darts forward in the direction of the near post. Mussachio panics and takes the bait.

As the defender follows his feint, Icardi responds with a drop of the shoulder and a swift change in direction. Mussachio has already committed, and his doomed attempts to adjust his run result in a loss of balance. When the ball meets Icardi's head, Mussachio can only watch on hopelessly, already on a collision course with the floor.

In that moment, instinct and coaching are combined. All of Icardi's work on the training ground - the endless video tutorials and sessions with former top-level strikers - click into gear.


He knows exactly what to do, but it's his anticipation that allows it to happen - his piercing perception of the run of play, remaining alert in the dying seconds of the game when others might switch off.

Look around world football these days and you'll see there's a dearth of genuinely world-class No.9s. Icardi is one of the last of a dying breed.

But this goal - and more specifically the deception which makes it possible - is a reminder of how effective it can be to have an out-and-out striker sniffing for that one decisive chance.

A clever piece of movement inside the box won't make the most eye-catching YouTube compilation, and it might not always metaphorically send someone back to their hometown. But when done properly, it is as lethal as any piece of skill.