The curious case of Mario Balotelli

Few players can sleepwalk, with special emphasis on the word walk, through games and pop up with a sublime piece of skill like Mario Balotelli can. His prodigious talents netted him the Fifa Young Player of the Year award, yet he gives off the impression that his talent is a burden, or that he has contempt for his ability. He barely celebrates his goals, whether ‘too cool for school’ or in a teenage strop, at 21, the sky truly is the limit, but he appears destined for a career bouncing around different clubs, while various different managers attempt to ‘fix’ him. If Jose Mourinho, the master manipulator, failed to get through to him, you wonder if anyone ever will. His performance in Manchester City’s European tie with Kiev at Eastlands last night meant he has once again hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Like fellow Italian prodigy Antonio Cassano, football appears to come easy to Balotelli, players as talented as this tend to be indulged by managers as it’s in their best interests, so a poor attitude and lack of work ethic is inevitable. At Inter Milan, Mourinho, captain Javier Zanetti and Marco Materazzi all felt the need to criticise Balotelli publicly, resulting in Balotelli releasing the following statement on Internazionale’s official website: “I am sorry for the situation that has been created recently. I am the first person who has suffered because I adore football and I want to play, and now I am waiting in silence so I can return to being useful to my team. I want to put the past behind me, look to the future and concentrate on the upcoming commitments and make myself ready.”

The statement showed the passion that had been lacking in his performances, although he then threw away any goodwill by wearing an AC Milan shirt on an Italian chat show. This was closely followed by an incident involving him throwing his Inter shirt to the ground at full time in a Champions League semi-final with Barcelona, having been booed by his own fans throughout. This effectively ended his Inter career and could represent his career in microcosm; 28 goals in 86 games, a three-year deal, Italian citizenship fast-tracked, yet eventually run out of town.

Balotelli’s discipline appeared to nose dive when Roberto Mancini left Inter, so hopes were high that he could once again reign in his star pupil when Manchester City paid £24m for his services in August. The following quote from Mancini earlier this month would suggest that the pattern looks likely to continue: “He is not listening to me,” he admitted. “I speak but I don’t think he listens. It is not important that he doesn’t listen to me,” Mancini explained. “What is important is that he does well, that he scores.”

A first-half red card for a high and late challenge on Goran Popov in last night’s aggregate loss to Dynamo Kiev effectively ended City’s chances of progressing to the quarter-finals of the Europa League and looks likely to cost Balotelli his place in the squad for the Chelsea game on Sunday. “I don’t think he’ll be in the squad, I don’t know if it was a red card or a yellow card, but when you play a game like this you should pay attention.” Whether the sending off, his second this season, it signals the end of his career at Manchester City remains to be seen.

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