For years, in both England and Italy, Mario Balotelli has continually divided opinion and has never been far from the back pages.
Fireworks, training ground bust-ups, camouflage encrusted Bentleys and crazy beanies, let alone the on pitch incidents. Whatever your view is on ‘Super Mario’, you can never accuse him of mediocrity.
But the majority within the football fraternity have lost patience with him, as he continues to under-perform on the pitch and show little signs of improvement in the attitude department.
Chance after chance has passed Balotelli by, leading to his current spell at Liverpool being largely considered his last opportunity to prove himself over an extended period of time. In recent years, Balotelli has developed a template to his time at any given club. At first, he’s a hit, the fans love him and he shows promise on the pitch, resulting in him being seen as a success. Then the controversies creep in, but he’s forgiven as his performances continue to impress. This is followed by an eventual dip in performance and disillusionment of the club towards Mario and vice versa. This ultimately leads to his exit from the club and the resetting of the template elsewhere. This process occurs as a result of managers continuing to take a risk on the Italian. This happens for one simple reason: when he’s good, he’s very good.
His performance in the Euro 2012 semi-final displayed his devastating eye for goal, scoring a double that included a superb long-range thunderbolt that nestled in the top right corner. He finished the tournament as joint top scorer with five goals, showing that an in-form, motivated Balotelli was a force to be reckoned with in European football.
In theory, AC Milan was the perfect fit for him. He was the main man up-front and was loved by the fans. On paper things seemed to be going well for Balotelli, scoring 26 goals in 43 appearances. But once again life turned sour, with the AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi calling him ‘a rotten apple’.
His calamitous start to life on Merseyside, in which he has failed to register a Premier League goal, proves that Balotelli’s career will never reach the heights that so many believed it would. Faith is something that people always had in Balotelli. It was believed that, despite the multiple misdemeanors, maturity would eventually prevail and result in Balotelli’s undeniable talent shining through.
But it has become apparent that Mario has a mental block and simply will not allow his ability to do the talking. His Brief Old Trafford cameo at the weekend consisted of two blatant shirt pulls, missed chances and that look of total resignation and anger that we have become all so accustomed to. Three years previous on the very same Old Trafford pitch, the future was looking bright for Balotelli. Scoring the opening two goals in the 6-1 demolition of arch rivals Manchester United.
On that day he famously lifted his shirt to reveal the slogan ‘Why Always Me’ – an important insight into the mind of a troubled talent and a philosophy that blames everyone else for his struggles, when the real reason for his unfulfilled career lies squarely between his own ears.
It leaves us all wondering what might have been.