Let’s get the obvious out of the way. When you consider his professional résumé, the amount of time spent discussing Mario Balotelli does not measure up. So what? If he never scored another goal, fans would still click on any headline with his name in it.
Balotelli was in the Inter Milan system from the age of 15. By 18, he had become the youngest player at the club to score in the Champions League. He scored 20 goals in 59 Serie A appearances with the nerazzurri, but his time in Milan was eventually cut short.
A move to Manchester City began with early promise and a Golden Boy award — given to Europe’s top under-21 player — in his first season. A similar pattern of 20 league goals and disciplinary troubles emerged before Balotelli found himself back at the San Siro, this time with AC Milan. Now, since moving to Liverpool this summer, Balotelli has yet to score a league goal.
He’s had more than his share of confrontations with teammates, coaches and club executives. He’s been labeled by a few as unmanageable. It’s even been suggested that he needs professional mental help. He’s been in more than his fair share of tabloid headlines, seen in places you wouldn’t hope to find a star striker on the weekend of a big match. He’s also been paid a ton of money, and has no qualms about showcasing what he’s bought with it.
Every day in the soccerverse is a tidal wave of Balotelli fervor. Has his formed slipped, or was he never any good in the first place? Is he a locker room cancer, or the subject of unusually harsh criticism? Is he an entitled, undisciplined show off, or young man free to enjoy the spoils of what his life has afforded him?
What makes Mario Balotelli so fascinating is that all of these characterizations are simultaneously true, and he remains one of the most naturally gifted players on the planet. He has himself acknowledged that he “sometimes does strange things,” but some of those strange things are for good, on the field.
The magic of Balotelli is that whatever he may be doing, be it a glorious Champions League finish or a run-in with Silvio Berlusconi, he lives life his way. Uncompromising, often to a fault. When you consider how grew up — between families, weaving in and out of cultural identity, clinging to a home country that is occasionally vile to him — it’s no wonder Mario finds himself in some of the unfortunate positions he does.
Realize that he’s still only 24 years old and has been rich since long before he was prepared for it. It’s a marvel that he’s as stable as he is. Not that these things are excuses for the behavior of an adult, but with all things considered, Mario Balotelli is much more of a captivating personality than the potentially dangerous one, as he’s often labeled.
Regardless, we’ll all keep watching.
The Fake numbers
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