30 January 2013

Bye bye Balotelli

Far too often, Manchester City fans have asked, "Why always Balotelli?"

So, it seems that Mario Balotelli has come to the end of the road at Manchester City.

The 22-year-old striker is today expected to complete a transfer to AC Milan for around £19million. It marks the end of two-and-a-half very eventful years at the City of Manchester Stadium for a man who has become just as well known by only his first name as only his surname.

There is no middle ground with the Italy international. He has either been 'super Mario' or 'bonkers Balotelli'. He's either one of football's elite players or barely good enough to play alongside his brother for Salford City. And, like Marmite, you either love him or you hate him.

Before arriving in Manchester, Balotelli stood out, and not just because he was one of the few black Italian footballers in Serie A.

He made his first-team debut for Inter Milan in 2007, when Roberto Mancini was their manager. Mancini left the following summer, and when Jose Mourinho arrived, the teenager had a mighty clash of egos with the Special One. Balotelli's performances for Inter dropped to the extent that, after one particularly poor show against Roma, Mourinho said that he "came close to a zero rating".

Every now and then, he would delight those in the blue half of the San Siro, but his attitude problems didn't look like improving any time soon, so Inter started listening to offers for the enigmatic forward.

Manchester United showed an interest in Balotelli, but it was City - now under the guidance of Mancini - that won his signature. After completing his transfer to the City of Manchester Stadium on his 20th birthday, he quickly hit the headlines by crashing his car on the way to the club's training ground just days later.

One game against West Bromwich Albion in November, three months after his arrival, was a clear indicator of things to come. He scored his first two Premier League goals before picking up his maiden red card in English football after a violent clash with West Brom's Youssouf Mulumbu. A month later, the ego came out publicly for the first time when, after having the Golden Boy award bestowed on him, Balotelli claimed that only Lionel Messi was better than him.

In 2011, Balotelli became an even more controversial figure. In March, he received his second red card for a reckless challenge on Dinamo Kiev's Goran Popov. In a tour of America four months later, he was substituted just moments after ignoring the chance to score with a simple finish against Los Angeles Galaxy, preferring instead to try a back-heel that only the very best players can pull off. Balotelli wasn't one of the very best.

That October, Balotelli and his mates set fire to his bedroom after playing around with fireworks. The match that Balotelli was due to play in the following day was the small matter of the Manchester derby. The Italian only went and scored City's opening goal before revealing a T-shirt which read "WHY ALWAYS ME?"

City fans were left asking "Why always him?" after a match against Arsenal in April 2012. Balotelli seemed to be simmering throughout that particular game. He escaped caution for a cynical foul on Alex Song, then earned himself a booking before getting an inevitable second yellow card for fouling Bacary Sagna. City went on to lose 1-0.

Citizens boss Mancini dropped Balotelli, insisting that he would not play again for the rest of the season. It looked like the youngster's infamous strop at the Emirates Stadium had lost Manchester City the Premier League title.

But, like a comic book hero, Balotelli came back, and with a second-half cameo against Queens Park Rangers, you could say that he actually won them the championship. It was his assist that set up Sergio Aguero for that last-gasp winning goal which sunk United hearts and gave City their first title since 1968.

Mancini said of Balotelli a few weeks after the Arsenal capitulation, "It's like a family when a child does stupid things. The affection of the parents is still there. He's young and he commits big mistakes that can put the team in difficulty."

However, when the problem child clashed with his father figure at the Manchester City training ground 27 days ago, Mancini's patience with Balotelli, which he once said was "endless", finally came to an end.

A return to Italy had been mooted for some time, and Balotelli has decided that his second Serie A club, after Inter Milan, will be their great rivals AC Milan. The man sure knows how to make headlines.

In 82 appearances for Manchester City, Balotelli scored 30 goals, was booked 25 times and sent off four times. That's nearly as many cards as goals.

There's no doubting that Mario Balotelli is one of the most gifted strikers in European football, but far too often, his brilliance on the pitch has been overshadowed by his bizarre and sometimes stupid antics both on and off it. Now that Mancini and Man City have given up, it's up to Massimiliano Allegri and AC Milan to answer the age-old question: "How do you solve a problem like Mario?"

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