When you think of yourself as super, but the majority of people think of you as mad, it’s never good, but that’s exactly the situation Mario Balotelli finds himself in right now.
His spell at Liverpool proved to be a calculated gamble gone wrong on the surface of things, and Liverpool fans are desperate to see the striker shipped out ahead of next season, be it on loan or ideally, a permanent deal.
Said permanent deal looks like being a dream further away than the Premier League title is, with even Balotelli’s super agent, Mino Raiola, failing to find a suitable club who will firstly pay a transfer fee, then pay the forward’s wages, and finally, take a chance on him.
Now there are plenty of people out there – Jose Mourinho included – who think the player is a liability, unmanageable, a waste of time. There are also those who think the Italian has bags of talent and could easily be one of the best players in the world.
The truth, as it so often does, falls in the middle of the two extremes.
Balotelli is in no way unmanageable. Nor is he Ballon d’Or worthy, and barring a massive turnaround, he won’t ever be.
He does score goals when given the chance and is actually a natural finisher – which sounds a basic requirement for a forward, but as football fans will know, there are those who are Sergio Aguero natural and those who are Olivier Giroud natural. Balotelli is more the former than the latter, but so many factors have to fall into place for that to happen.
He has to be played in the right position – there is no convincing him to do a job for you on the wing and put a shift in for the team a la Samuel Eto’o en-route to Inter Milan’s treble winning season. Balotelli has to be the number nine, and you only get the best from him when he has someone to play off up top.
At Liverpool that didn’t happen, because while Rickie Lambert might be a boyhood fan and one more stamp on that Southampton loyalty card, a star forward he is not. Daniel Sturridge can produce world class dance moves in celebration of a goal, but to actually stay fit in order to score enough of them is a seemingly impossible task.
The role in which Brendan Rodgers seemed to feel Balotelli excelled in last season was that of a scapegoat, blaming the forward for just about everything, but if Rodgers is being slightly more genuine than his tan, he would admit that Balotelli was poor, fair enough, but he was no poorer than the majority of the summer signings – all of which were sanctioned by Rodgers.
For those who do stand firmly in the Balotelli is hopeless camp, cast your minds back to the Euros in 2012. The Italian was at his very best and he was frightening. That is the Mario his admirers know he can be – that is the Mario his favourite manager and staunchest defender for long periods of time, Roberto Mancini, was counting on him being.
Off the field behaviour has marred much of Balotelli’s time in England, but the press also recognise cannon fodder when they see it, and the 24 year old is just that. He makes headlines for going to San Carlo with friends. He makes headlines for being part of a car crash that wasn’t even his fault.
He also makes headlines for messy love triangles and a host of possibly ludicrous, probably true stories ranging from going to a prison just out of curiosity to handing out cash dressed as Father Christmas.
At times, Balotelli is his own worst enemy, and he will struggle to find a taker this summer, with Fiorentina fans reacting to the news of a possible loan deal like Tottenham Hotspur ones do when they see Real Madrid calling up once again to tap into their ‘special relationship’.
Balotelli, unlike ‘sick’ Sterling, did bother to turn up to Liverpool training after their summer break, despite his adoptive father passing away, and could so easily be the player who banged in goals for AC Milan upon his return to Italy, scoring 30 goals in 54 appearances, or the player who can take a penalty better than most in the world.
For a player who gets a fair amount of stick, Balotelli’s record in front of goals is pretty decent – his league record is markedly better than his Champions League one – with 102 Serie A games hailing 46 goals, which is close to a one in two record.
For his country, he scored six goals in 16 games for the U21s, and for the senior side, has 13 goals in 33 appearances and counting.
Even those who criticise his time at Manchester City would struggle to play down the importance of his performance against Queens Park Rangers. In a game that everyone remembers for the brilliance of Sergio Agueroooooo, there would have been no title that day without Balotelli.
It is easy to forget that Balotelli is still in his mid 20s, given he burst on to the scene so young and has hardly been out of the headlines since, but the bottom line is Balotelli has talent. And bags of it. He also has one hell of a temperament issue.
It’s up to him which he decides to be remembered for.