Skip to content

Mario Balotelli to Milan: Where whimsy may finally meet greatness

Jan 29, 2013, 1:26 PM EDT

Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrat

Mario is leaving Manchester, if AC Milan’s to be believed. The whimsical Manchester City striker, brought to Eastlands two and a half years ago, is on his way to Milan ahead of a Wednesday physical. If passed, the exam will be the last step before a return home. For a $31.5 million fee (that could climb after performances bonuses), the Rossoneri will get the 22-year-old Italian international on a deal that’s said to run until 2017.

One of the most talented strikers in the world, Balotelli gave the world a glimpse of his game-defining potential with two Euro 2012 semifinal goals that led Italy to an upset victory of pre-tournament co-favorites Germany. In 75 appearances for Manchester City, the versatile striker has scored 30 all-competition goals, including 17 in 35 games last season. Bought from Inter Milan for $30 million in the summer of 2010, Balotelli has been a productive if mercurial presence for the English champions.

(MORE: Mario Balotelli’s top moments of madness)

It’s a label Balotelli’s earned off the field and on, his three years in Manchester having affirmed one of the more notorious reputations in world soccer. While most who’ve covered him closely describe a mischievous and mostly harmless character, the list of high-profile incidents linked to Sicily-born attacker have endowed him with a comical fame. Perhaps the most emblematic incident came in October 2011 when Balotelli set his house on fire after igniting fireworks in a bathroom. In a game the next day, Balotelli celebrated a goal by lifting his jersey to reveal a t-shirt which read “why always me?” – a reference to the media attention he attracts. Balotelli later became a firework safety ambassador for Great Manchester.

source:  Among other famous anecdotes, Balotelli crashed a car soon after his Manchester arrival only to be found with near-$8,000 in cash on him when police came to investigate the incident. He was photographed in the company of Mafia members during his first spell in Italy, and out of curiosity, he has made unsolicited visits to prisons. Closer to the field, Balotelli’s immense talents have been mitigated by confrontations with coaches, brow-furrowing behavior like the ball heel shot that saw him pulled from a preseason game in Los Angeles, and a series of training ground fights with teammates, including captain Vincent Kompany.

Amid whimsy and volatility is a player who possesses an elite array of talents – the type of gifts that lead clubs like City and Milan to pay transfer fees that would be the records for near-every club in the world. His supreme technical skills endow him with an enviable first touch, one which, combined with his 6’2″ frame, allows him to play as a target forward. But his speed and athleticism have seen him spend time in wide positions, with a brilliant ball-striking ability making him a threat from distance in open play as well as from dead balls. There is a reason why people like Italy coach Cesare Prandelli and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini continue to find room in their teams for “Super Mario.”

His tendency to constantly defy his antics and win back playing time is something that’s frustrated critics who decry Balotelli’s fickle antics. Having already put in five-and-a-half seasons between Internazionale and City, many understandably see the talented striker as a seasoned if still maturing player. How many 22-year-olds are professional soccer players? (A lot.) And how many leverage their talent for such selfish pursuits? (One.) Well-compensated by the deal that took him to Manchester, it’s not unfair for onlookers — particularly, City fans — to expect more from somebody for whom greatness is only a mental tweak away.

source: Getty ImagesIt bears reminding that not all 22-year-olds are created the same. Balotelli’s past is one of relative turmoil. An impoverished family of Ghanian immigrants burdened by medical bills from Balotelli’s early childhood health problems gave him up to foster care when he was two years old. The biological family eventually faded out of his life, leaving a Sicilian-born foster child of African descent to be raised by a Jewish-Italian foster family in Brescia. For many familiar with Balotelli’s story, the player’s personality reflects a type of extended adolescence born of early childhood uncertainties.

Now Balotelli is Massimiliano Allegri’s pleasure and problem – the newest piece of what could be an incredibly dynamic if but maturing attack. Twenty-year-old Stephan El Shaarawy has been the Italian season’s breakout star, his 15 goals from mostly a wide-left position trailing only Napoli’s Edinson Cavani for the league’s lead. On the right, 18-year-old M’Baye Niang has seen more time of late, though the summer acquisition from Caen has yet to notch his first Serie A goal. Together, the trio gives Allegri a collection of players who will be among the most fearsome one-on-one talents in the league, their speed and athleticism allowing the Rossoneri to attack with defense-collapsing talents from all angles.

In reality, a player like Bojan Krkic will likely need to be mixed in to provide a more creative presence in possession. And Milan also have Giampaolo Pazzini and (for now) Robinho in the squad. For a team the cleared their shelves of talent this offseason, Milan suddenly have an enviable collection of quality attackers, even if the best of them are still 22 or younger.

All of them are going to be overshadowed by Balotelli now. Having transcended pop curiosity to semi-national hero this summer, Balotelli becomes the preeminent figure in the team, if not the league. If Allegri gets more out of a player who’s rejoining the club he supported in his youth, $31.5 million will prove a reasonable price for somebody so talented. And it’s a move that always seemed inevitable when

Whether this move sees Balotelli fulfill his potential, well, that’s not up to Allegri. When Mario decides to be great, he’ll be great.

Latest Posts
  1. Maradona’s quote after Pope’s inter-religious peace match is priceless

    Sep 1, 2014, 11:30 PM EDT

    201409011528557269254 AP

    “Today two powers were brought together, the hand of God and that of the Pope,” Maradona joked. No, really. That’s what he said.

  2. Premier League Team of the Week: Find out who starred on Matchday 3

    Sep 1, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT

    Newcastle United v Crystal Palace - Premier League Getty Images

    From a 18-year-old Jamaican-English midfielder to a 34-year-old veteran goalkeeper, this team takes a ride through all types of players.

  3. Premier League player of the week — Round 3

    Sep 1, 2014, 9:38 PM EDT

    diego_costa Getty Images

    In the end, the player had to come from the nine-goal thriller at Goodison Park.

  4. VIDEO: Breaking down the Deadline Day deals with the NBCSN crew

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:48 PM EDT

    stambouli_730

    Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe bring you plenty of analysis on the summer transfer window’s Deadline Day.

  5. Premier League transfer window grades – Which team did the best business?

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT

    Everton v Chelsea - Premier League Getty Images

    Passing or failing? Take a gander at how each Premier League team fared.

  6. Done Deal: Radamel Falcao completes move to Manchester United

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT

    Falcao AP

    Falcao signs for United, arrives on loan from Monaco with view to a permanent transfer.

  7. Done Deal: Better late than never, Arsenal seals deal with Welbeck

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:09 PM EDT

    Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck went away to London for international break, and won’t return to the club after sealing a move to Arsenal.

  8. Americans Abroad wrap: Guzan stays unbeaten, Lichaj & Bedoya thrive

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:26 PM EDT

    FC Nantes v Montpellier Herault SC - Ligue 1 Getty Images

    Nantes, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa are all surprising early-season teams, and Americans are playing big roles in each club’s success.

  9. Done Deal: Listing all the Deadline Day deals from the Premier League

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:13 PM EDT

    Ajax Amsterdam v PEC Zwolle - Johan Cruijff Shield Getty Images

    The biggest confirmed transfers on Deadline Day including Premier League teams.

  10. WATCH: Bart Simpson joins FC Zenit on deadline day; Greeted by AVB

    Sep 1, 2014, 6:40 PM EDT

    BwcxsXUCAAEscIQ

    If Andre Villas-Boas thought Emmanuel Adebayor was hard to handle, wait til he gets a load of this American character.

  11. Alvaro Negredo signs for Valencia on loan, $40 million deal in place

    Sep 1, 2014, 6:23 PM EDT

    Negredo Getty Images

    Negredo leaves City, heads back to Spain to play for Valencia.

  12. Hull City sign Gaston Ramirez on loan, agree deal for Ben Arfa

    Sep 1, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT

    Austria v Uruguay - International Friendly Match Getty Images

    Hull busy on Deadline Day as Ramirez joins on loan, plus Ben Arfa.

  13. WATCH: Own goal for ages, Zlatan hat trick key PSG win over St Etienne

    Sep 1, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT

    Paris Saint-Germain FC v AS Saint-Etienne - Ligue 1 Getty Images

    In the words of NHL commentator Rick Jeanneret, roll the highlight reel for Ibra, Cavani and PSG, and the lowlight reel for one poor keeper.

  14. Reports: Arsenal to fork over $26 mil for Manchester United’s Welbeck

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer England AP

    Not a huge risk for Arsenal, but certainly a good bit of business for United. Could Welbeck become the next Daniel Sturridge?

  15. Deadline Day Transfer Rumor Roundup: 11th hour edition

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:18 PM EDT

    1409570021796_wps_117_BURNLEY_ENGLAND_AUGUST_30 Getty Images

    Jermain Defoe, Danny Welbeck and Hatem Ben Arfa all make one last run through the rumor mill as the deadline draws near.

  16. Done Deal: Daley Blind is officially a member of Manchester United

    Sep 1, 2014, 3:49 PM EDT

    _77314123_bwejvymimaacber

    The Dutch international rejoins his World Cup boss for four seasons at “the biggest club in the world.”

Featured video

Official: Welbeck signs for Arsenal