Arguably the most controversial man in world football, Mario Balotelli has turned his back on life in England and returned to his native Italy with AC Milan. It seems like the perfect move as the forward returns to familiar surroundings, but will he be able to cope with the confusion of the Italian people when it comes to the Azzurri talisman?
By Fraser Lawrie – @fraser_lawrie
Explosive. Talented. Misunderstood. Talisman. These are just some of the words that have been used to describe Mario Balotelli. Then there are the others: Petulant. Immature. Stupid. Yes, there has never been a player as polarising as “Super Mario” in recent memory. But since his recent move to AC Milan the question many are wondering is; is he worth the fuss?
Jose Mourinho had a number of problems with the young striker during his time at Inter, famously calling him “unmanageable”. Despite this warning, it didn’t stop Manchester City splashing out £24 million on the enigmatic Italian. The fact that Mancini was willing to pay that much for the then 19-year-old striker tells you all you need to know about his undoubted talent.
Two-and-a-half years later we have seen fireworks, that shoulder goal, the assist that won the title, a man of the match display in the FA cup final and, of course, “ Why Always me?”. He has now gone back to Italy, to play for his boyhood heroes AC Milan. Easily the most talked about transfer of the whole window, many questions were asked, “Will he now finally grow up under the watchful eye of Adriano Galliani?”, “Are there too many temptations in Milan for Mario?” and perhaps the most important, “will Mario Balotelli finally fulfil his potential?”
To say Mario is a lost cause is wrong. He is certainly not the first Italian bad boy to grace football, nor will he be the last. Christian Vieri was in the papers for his string of romances with a list of beautiful models as much as for his on-field displays. Paolo Di Canio had to get around the clock security after his fascist salute during the Rome derby while playing at Lazio. He also endured an 11-match ban whilst playing for West Ham after pushing a referee over. Antonio Cassano has had troubles with authority his whole career and once called Fabio Capello “faker than monopoly money”.
Many have forgotten about Mario’s incredible mental strength. He’s caught between the two conflicting worlds of Italian football. On the one side you have the old-fashioned beliefs on what an Italian footballer should act like, play like and look like. With some of Italy still in uproar over a black man playing for the Azzurri, it cannot be easy for Balotelli. After all, this is a young man trying to endear himself to his home country where many want nothing to do with him. Under Cesare Prandelli, Italy has changed dramatically. Now a very fast-moving dynamic and creative side, this has given “Super Mario” a chance to flourish. In the European Championships Balotelli proved his talent leading Italy to the final with three goals including a brace against Germany.
Although Balotelli may be infamous for his off the field antics, make no mistake about it, it is his football ability that has made him one of the most famous players in the world. He has all the qualities to become a great. The only place he fails to excel? In his head. A common criticism Mario faces is that he looks like “he doesn’t care”. Now playing for his boyhood heroes, it will be interesting to see how his attitude changes over the coming years.
Now when you take into account all the changes Italian football is currently going through, perhaps Balotelli is just too different from what many in Italy expect from him. Preferring instead a more humble and dignified image of what Italy’s first major black superstar should look and act like – a larger than life figure who could absorb rather than reflect the ugliness thrown all along his rise to footballing prominence.
Mario’s story is a truly compelling one; a young man on the cusp of greatness, who polarises opinion all across his homeland. If we have learned anything from his return to Italy, Balotelli will never back down from the pressure, using is as motivation to become Italy’s talisman and one of the world’s greatest. Whether or not he will achieve this is up for debate. I wouldn’t bet against him though.
What does the future hold for Mario Balotelli? Give us your thoughts @talkingbaws or comment below.