As another summer transfer window rolls on, amongst the dazzling and sensational hot properties making moves across Europe, an Italian striker with a sketchy CV is also included. His inclusion is becoming a routine affair to be listed each summer, and this worrying theme has been gnawing away at those who sympathise or were once left flabbergasted in awe of Mario Balotelli’s ruthless finishing.
Finishing of the highest order, which became an impetus for belief and the cathartic release through euphoric celebrations amongst those who supported the Azzurri in the memorable summer of 2012. The time even Balotelli’s harshest critics stood up and took notice as he exploded on to the international scene.
The apotheosis of Mario’s finishing abilities was one of the defiant factors in the progression of the Azzurri throughout the tournament. Having shown flashes of the consummately talented striker that he was all throughout that year, the culmination of displaying every ounce of his natural skill set in the semi-final clash against Germany helped Mario endear himself to his nation.
In the enthralling brace against Germany, the Italian showed enormous ingenuity and strength on both occasions to outmuscle and outmanoeuvre the German defence before dispatching the ball past the ever-reliant Manuel Neuer. What stood out is how the game unfolded with Germany reaching a stage where they countenanced defeat at the hands of a prodigiously talented individual.
Often describing his decision of not celebrating after scoring a goal as being similar to the actions of a postman, the Italian would say “Does a postman celebrate after delivering his post? Then why should I celebrate after scoring a goal?” Yet, the contrary happened against Germany. The terrific brace that day was followed by an iconic, emotional celebration where the preaching evangelist as perhaps seen by some, saw him take off his shirt, stand motionless soaking in the moment, and allowing the world to bask in his glory.
With the backdrop of Balotelli becoming the first player of colour to play for Italy in a major international tournament, we saw a new side to the existing obdurate atmosphere that showcased how prevalent racism had been existing in Italy for a long time. His significance in the squad gave rise to the multifaceted attributes that co-existed simultaneously on and off the pitch.
Although the tournament eventually ended in heartbreak for Italy, as they were bulldozed over by Spain, their European run that summer had been engineered by the tenacious defence and ambitious free flowing attacking football that had been displayed.
Having played a significant role, the tournament became an important highlight in Balotelli’s career. He was named in the Team of the Tournament and finished as the joint top scorer alongside Fernando Torres with three goals. The sensationalist press all across Europe had always been vociferous towards Mario Balotelli and his disciplinary issues. Always in the limelight for the good but certainly the bad, although Euro 2012 might have not changed his image in front of the world, it did help Balotelli empathically announce his footballing abilities to the world.
Discipline was often something that wasn’t affiliated with Balotelli, and his frequent antics across many different clubs always met with an outpouring of vitriol from fans and owners alike. His lack of self-awareness played a huge role in obstructing him from reaching his full potential. In hindsight, maybe the Italian was not aware of just how talented he was and ended up wasting it. He wanted to play football and have fun. The world of football has always had an atavistic aversion to concepts related to the type of fun Mario participated in.
While playing for Mancini’s Manchester City, he remained under the shelter and guidance of a manager whom he considered as a fatherly figure. Imbued with Balotelli’s footballing talent, and despite occasionally vacillating by demoting a physically fit Balotelli to the bench to showcase anger towards his latest notorious pranks, Mancini regularly included his name in the starting line-up.
In his first season with the club in 2010, he showed promise and was bestowed upon with title of most promising young player of the year as he received the Golden Boy award. Eventually, he became an integral yet volatile part of the blue half of Manchester as they headed into the 2011/12 campaign. The year that resulted in the eventual power shift in English football, with Balotelli galvanising within the creation of a new formidable side that played enthralling, beautiful football and won their first top-flight title in 44 years.
Deeply engaged and in the heart of that defining moment when Manchester City needed to score in the dying moments of their final game of the season, Balotelli not only made a name for himself but was also responsible for partially catalysing the birth of a new horizon for Manchester City.
With 90 seconds to go, it was Mario’s instinctiveness that helped him find Aguero despite losing his balance on the edge of the box. Mancini had always been vocally pedantic towards every tiny detail that Mario had to concentrate on in order to perfect his gameplay. His optimistic sweep of the leg in the final moment of the game to assist the match and title winner only went on to showcase another live example of how pragmatism in collaboration with hard work always wins the day.
There were umpteenth moments that year (2011-12) that signified a new era beckoning in English football’s top-flight division. Amongst them was the day when Manchester City travelled to Old Trafford. Often written off as a matter of dominance demonstrated from the red half of Manchester, the derby had traditionally exposed numerous frailties that lay within the City squad across the years.
Manchester was known to admit Sir Alex Ferguson’s passion, ambition, and tenacious self-belief that created the DNA that represented Manchester United. But that year Roberto Mancini’s reputation for being intense, dogmatic and stubborn to make sure his team played a certain style of attacking football helped his side achieve a result that left the entire universe bewildered.
A 1-6 thrashing left the red half of Manchester both humbled and humiliated as away fans introduced new chants like “What time is it? It’s Six past De Gea.” Since the onset, Mario Balotelli had been a significant influence upfront, causing a real nuisance in the opposite half. Becoming the flame that lit an entire fire, it was his finish that began the onslaught.
Receiving the ball on the edge of the box from James Milner, Balotelli’s calm and composed first time finish into the bottom left corner sliced through the United defence and left De Gea helplessly stranded in front of his goal. The vision and perfectionism in terms of technique showed by the Italian was equally matched by his iconic celebration. Lifting his jersey over his head, the man stood as if he was shooting for a modelling assignment with the words “Why always me?” emblazoned on his inner.
Iconic, stylish and extremely humorous, the celebration went down as one of the most memorable in the history of the league, but yet nobody tried answering the question in complete entirety. Why always him?
In my personal opinion after having followed Balotelli religiously, football seemed to be too simple and easy for him. He was just so talented and physically gifted that football even at a professional level was no match for him. He was often witnessed to be bored at training since the drills didn’t push him to his limits. As a consequence, he would torment the younger players and be a constant source of nuisance through his pranks.
Pranks that pictured him pretending the corner flag to be a penis, needing assistance to wear a bib before a training match and constantly seen getting into heated arguments with the coach and other team members. Balotelli would also often be seen training alone because he wouldn’t arrive on time for the sessions.
Combine these issues with off the field incidents such as setting his house on fire via fireworks right before the game at Old Trafford in the 2011-12 season, being questioned by the police as to why he is carrying £5000 in his car only for him to respond with “Because I am rich” and often getting caught smoking and partying late at night.
His attitude away from the actual game resulted in him not always being at 100% physically. Despite the talent, coaches and fans would not approve of him as he never seemed determined enough to give his best. Instead, he displayed inconsistency during games, where he could have singleheartedly taken apart the opposition. To summarize, Mario Balotelli could have been one of the best in the world but instead he wasted his talent because he was never managed in the right way.
Following his eventual departure from Manchester City in 2013, Balotelli had stints in Italy with AC Milan and in France with OGC Nice and Marseille. Often classified as the “Farmers League” because of the lack of competition and the staggering difference between a handful of clubs and the rest of the league, Mario excelled with ease in Ligue 1. Top scorer for OGC Nice, he played a vital role in guiding the club to a 3rd place finish in 2017 with his 17 goals. This was followed by a successful loan spell with Marseille where he bagged a further eight goals to help the club finish in 5th place.
Across the years, Mario has showcased performances that could win him laurels and a permanent move to an illustrious club. Instead, his story is similar to that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Everywhere he goes, his bad boy reputation follows him and creates a huge dent in his overall perception. Nobody wants to deal with that kind of baggage, so a small contract seems like the best circumstances for any club looking to indulge in the Italian.
In his latest excursions, his homecoming to the club (Brescia) where he began his career held an essence of a real life ‘Braveheart’ story where the powerful warrior returns to protect his homeland. Adopted by a couple who resided in Brescia, Balotelli expressed how he felt responsible to give back to his parents and the town which helped shape his career by making him fall in love with football. Balotelli’s return was also symbolised as a source for optimism in order for the club to have a real fighting chance in their mission to stay up in Seria A.
Instead, what was promised to be a heart-warming revival story could now end in a legal battle between Balotelli and the Club’s owners. With his homecoming turning sour, the fallout was rumoured to have stemmed from Brescia’s frustration with the 29-year old’s attitude of remaining inactive and blatantly absent during the online training sessions organised in the lockdown period.
Eventually, when full training resumed, Balotelli was judged to not be in good enough shape to join his teammates. Instead, he needed individual sessions, and soon Brescia’s bombastic club president, Massimo Cellino started expressing the notion that Mario lacked professionalism and had shown a clear lack of respect towards the club and his personal trainer.
Now engaged in a war, the ultimate confrontation could become a blockbuster waiting to erupt with two highly temperamental individuals locking horns. It is believed that despite having two years remaining on his contract, Balotelli’s contract will be terminated following the end of the season. In hindsight, it is easy to say that the outcome will bring a sad end to another false dawn in the career of a talented striker, who turns 30 in August.
Mario Balotelli’s story has been painstakingly beautiful with a constant dose of confusion and scrutiny along the way. Perhaps for a man destined to achieve the levels only very few can even imagine, his attitude has been his Achilles heel. Countering racism along the way especially in his home country has always had a psychological impact on ‘Super Mario’, leading to his certain antics being justifiable and raising universal sympathy.
At 29 years, Balotelli is reaching an age where getting chances to excel and represent your country are becoming limited. As the summer window opens, there may well be a few more twists and turns in store when it comes to the life and career of Mario Balotelli. One thing guaranteed, no matter if you love him or you hate him, the entertainment factor shall always remain and continue when ‘Super Mario’ accepts his next offer.