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. Sepp Blatter claims French and German presidents influenced World Cup voters

    Jul 5, 2015, 8:34 AM EDT

    Blatter AP

    Sepp’s not going down without a fight, now bringing major political leaders into the mix.

  2. WATCH: Robbie Keane nets hat trick, Kaka sees red in Saturday night MLS action

    Jul 5, 2015, 7:44 AM EDT

    Toronto FC v Los Angeles Galaxy Getty Images

    On the Fourth of July, there were fireworks all across Major League Soccer.

  3. United States, Japan meet in Women’s World Cup final with high hopes back home

    Jul 5, 2015, 7:40 AM EDT

    A view of the BC Place stadium in Vancouver on July 4, 2015 on the eve of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final football match USA vs Japan. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE        (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Both countries hope that this final will help bring further attention to the women’s game.

  4. Heather O’Reilly talks revenge on Japan, adjusting to bench role

    Jul 5, 2015, 4:51 AM EDT

    USA midfielder Heather O'Reilly (R) takes part in a training session at the BC Place stadium in Vancouver on July 4, 2015 on the eve of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final football match USA vs Japan. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE        (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Olympic gold medals are great, but this group wants a World Cup title.

  5. Krieger credits Ellis, communication for United States’ defensive success

    Jul 4, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT

    USA defender Ali Krieger (R) vies with Germany's forward Anja Mittag during their 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup semi-final football match between USA and Germany at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal on June 30, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE        (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The U.S. hasn’t given up a goal in 513 minutes at this World Cup, heading into the final against Japan.

  6. MLS Snapshot: Columbus Crew SC 2-1 New York Red Bulls

    Jul 4, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew SC Getty Images

    Kei Kamara -> Ethan Finlay (x2) was all Crew SC needed to jump three places in the Eastern Conference.

  7. 2015 Copa America awards: Vargas, Guerrero beat Aguero, Vidal to top scorer

    Jul 4, 2015, 9:20 PM EDT

    Eduardo Vargas, Chile — 2015 Copa America semifinal Eduardo Vargas, Chile — 2015 Copa America semifinal

    Eduaro Vargas and Paolo Guerrero beat all the big names to the 2015 Copa America top scorer’s award.

  8. For Japan women’s national team, approach to game and life is team-first

    Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT

    Members of Japan's national team joke during a training session in Vancouver on July 4, 2015, on the eve of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final against the US.   AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The solidarity between Japan teammates — and between the two teams contesting the final — is remarkable.

  9. Chile 0-0 (4-1 PKs) Argentina: Chile’s first Copa America title in 99-year history (video)

    Jul 4, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT

    Chile, 2015 Copa America champions Chile, 2015 Copa America champions

    It took 99 years, but Chile are finally champions of South America after defeating Argentina in a penalty shootout.

  10. Steven Gerrard’s first gift to his new LA Galaxy supporters — cases of California beer

    Jul 4, 2015, 6:28 PM EDT

    Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy

    Steven Gerrard is winning points with LA Galaxy supporters before ever stepping on the field for his new club.

  11. Transfers confirmed: Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid sign Douglas Costa, Jackson Martinez

    Jul 4, 2015, 6:07 PM EDT

    Douglas Costa, FC Bayern Munich Getty Images

    Regulars in the latter stages of the Champions League, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid continue their summer spending sprees.

  12. FOLLOW LIVE — Copa America final: Messi, Argentina face hosts Chile

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Chile v Argentina - 2015 Copa America Chile Final Chile v Argentina - 2015 Copa America Chile Final

    We go once more at the 2015 Copa America. This time it’s Argentina vs. Chile for all the marbles.

  13. Busy international summer could give clubs plenty to plan for next season

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:24 PM EDT

    Messi Getty Images

    With international competitions all over the globe this summer, clubs may want to think about stockpiling depth and resting their best players throughout the course of next season.

  14. Lloyd, Brian prove crucial to United States’ turnaround at Women’s World Cup

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Carli Lloyd has taken rightfully taken over the spotlight, but Morgan Brian’s supporting role is no less important.

  15. Dinamo Zagreb president, manager arrested on bribery and tax evasion charges

    Jul 4, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT

    Mamic Getty Images

    Croatia’s most successful club has seen police throw its president and manager in prison.

  16. Sepp Blatter’s championing of women’s soccer leaves Megan Rapinoe unimpressed

    Jul 4, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT

    Rapinoe Getty Images

    Popularity of women’s soccer has improved greatly the past few years, but there’s still much work to be done, and the US international isn’t happy with FIFAs parading of accomplishments.

  17. Report: Robin van Persie agrees to personal terms with Fenerbahce

    Jul 4, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT

    VanPersie Getty Images

    With the Dutchman set to turn 32 before the start of the league season, Manchester United may look to cash in on his star power after a down year.

  18. Galatasaray officially unveils Lukas Podolski on a permanent transfer from Arsenal

    Jul 4, 2015, 10:22 AM EDT

    Podolski Getty Images

    The German international didn’t get a first-team guarantee from Arsene Wenger, so he moved on.

  19. Shaqiri proving a wanted man with Atletico Madrid and Spurs joining the mix

    Jul 4, 2015, 9:47 AM EDT

    Shaqiri Getty Images

    Stoke had an offer accepted by Inter, but two more clubs are reportedly in the mix for the Swiss international.

Featured video

PST Extra: Done deals & transfer gossip