Liverpool signing, Mario Balotelli was spotted at the training pitch [on Wednesday] play-fighting fellow team-mate, Emre Can. Balotelli was in good spirits at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, taking time out from the session to play fight with midfielder Can.
Can has only recently returned to training following six weeks out with an ankle problem. But the summer signing from Bayer Leverkusen looks at ease on Merseyside judging by the comical scrap with Balotelli. The Italian striker was at the centre of things on the pitch too, under the watchful gaze of Brendan Rodgers.
The Italian striker who recently moved to Anfield has been surrounded with controversies both in in his time at former Premier League club, Manchester City and Italian Club, AC Milan.
With his arrogant swagger, penchant for ridiculous and Mohawks of many colours, Mario Balotelli is every inch the quintessential 21st century soccer star – mini-Cantona of the modern game.
Mercurial strikers have always been hot favourites in the Premier League. Eric Cantona was famous for unparalleled genius on the pitch but also his violent temper. Paulo Di Canio was similarly capable of goals of breath-taking beauty combined with acts of spontaneous self-destruction. Balotelli slots comfortably into this group.
When he signed for Manchester City for roughly $20 million in August 2010, the Sicilian, who has Ghanaian heritage, was still largely unproven. Rumours circulated of a troubled genius in need of careful nurturing to realize his tremendous potential.
“I think that Balotelli could be as good as [Fernando] Torres and even better than him,” said Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini upon his signing.
That Balotelli was an uncommonly gifted sportsman was never in doubt. Having signed for Inter Milan as a 16-year-old, he was called up to the senior Ghana squad five days before his 17th birthday, only to turn down the offer in the belief that he would one day represent Italy, the country of his birth.
Tall and athletic, he would bully defenders with his daunting strength before bamboozling them with his close ball control and lethal finishing. These attributes saw him become a regular for Inter in the 2008/9 season.
However, even at such a tender age, controversy was never far behind. He was subjected to racist chanting from opposition supporters and fell afoul of Coach Jose Mourinho, as well as his own fans, for a perceived lack of effort.
Eventually Inter chose to cash in on their troubled young prodigy with Manchester City waiting in the wings. And it was not long into his tenure that eyebrows were once again raised. Within days the league’s new wonder kid managed to crash his Audi R8 coupé on the way to training. When the police officer who arrived at the scene enquired why a 20-year-old was carrying £5,000 ($8,000) cash in his back pocket, Balotelli simply replied, “Because I am rich.”
He scored his first two Premier League goals in the 2–0 away win against West Brom on Nov. 7, 2010, but his performance was marred by a red card following a scuffle with Youssuf Mulumbu. And this tendency to mix the sublime with the ridiculous became increasingly acute over the months that followed.
Nevertheless, Balotelli’s first season in England was a qualified success. Apart from a valuable contribution of 10 goals in 28 appearances, he also helped the Sky Blues lift their first silverware for 35 years with a man of the match performance in the 1-0 FA Cup Final defeat of Stoke City.
And there were more glorious highs to come, such as his two goals as Manchester City thrashed their illustrious neighbours Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford in October 2011, but also laughable lows such as almost setting his house ablaze through an impromptu 1:00am fireworks display on the morning of that same match.
No wonder he unveiled his infamous “Why always me?” T-shirt after scoring his first goal against United. Later that week, Balotelli became Greater Manchester’s ambassador for firework safety.
Following his needless sending off for a chest-high lunge on Goran Popov during a Europa League match against Dynamo Kiev in March 2011, “Mad Mario” made the headlines again when allegedly caught throwing darts at [Manchester City] youth team players because “he was bored.”
While such unruly behaviour was hardly atypical, one would be wrong to think that hooliganism was the young athlete’s defining quality. Mario has always been more complicated than that.
When asked by a fan for his autograph outside City’s training ground, Balotelli enquired why the youngster was not in school. Upon hearing that he didn’t attend because a bully was picking on him, the aggrieved soccer player immediately drove both the fan and his mother to inform the headmaster about the problem, and even mediated a reconciliatory meeting between the boy and his tormentor.
The former City manager [Roberto Mancini] suggested that the striker was no longer in his plans following yet another grievous horror tackle, this time on Arsenal’s Alex Song, but then brought him on as a late substitute in the last game of the season against Queens Park Rangers.
Balotelli proved his worth with the assist for fellow striker Sergio Aguero to seal a dramatic 3-2 victory in the 94th minute to give the Eastlands’ club their first league title since 1968 by virtue of goal difference over their bitter city rivals. It was also his most productive season to date with 17 goals from 32 appearances.
It appeared that all was forgiven until a training ground bust-up just after New Year that saw Balotelli and Roberto Mancini having to be dragged apart by teammates.
A return to the Premier League he ran away means that the English press has reasons to fill their tabloids with controversies from the player Mourinho branded ‘unmanageable’.
Will Balotelli now grow up? Much will depend upon his propensity to get wound up with the slightest provocation, as opponents target his combustive nature in a deliberate attempt to seek an advantage. While it may be difficult to answer, “Why always me?” the Premier League will be a duller place without him. And with his majestic return to a desperate side, Brendan Rodgers must keep a keen watch on the ever controversial ‘Super Mario’.