The Grace To Grass Story Of Mario Balotelli

Balotelli's story is at once enigmatic, humbling and bizarre. Kwasi Gyamfi assesses how the Italian has become such a forlorn figure at Anfield

The Grace

A few years ago, Mario Balotelli was one of the world’s most sought after forwards. Clubs lined up to get him on their side.

The son of poor Ghanaian migrants, placed under foster care, he had risen to become a somewhat poster boy of the classic rags to riches story.  

In November 2008, Balotelli became the youngest player to score in the Champions league. From winning the Serie A with Inter Milan, he went to Manchester City to join his former manager Roberto Mancini. 

At City, he won the FA Cup in his first season and then the Premier League the next season providing the all-important assist that won the league for the Citizens. It was City’s first league title in 44 years.

He scored 30 goals in 49 games in total. Ballotelli won the Golden Boy Award and emerged as the best under 21 player in Europe. He celebrated the award by scoring his first hat trick against Aston Villa.

He went back to Milan - the red side, this time.

At AC Milan, he scored an impressive 12 goals out of 13 games in his first season and helped the team qualify for the Champions League. In total, he bagged 28 goals in 43 games.

But he has been on the receiving end of numerous racist abuse least not from his home country.

Despite the monkey chants, he chose to play for Italy and not Ghana after he got citizenship. Perhaps, Balottelli’s true worth was realized at the Euro 2012 football tournament co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland when he became the first black player for the Azzurri’s in any major tournament.

Mario was instrumental in sending the oldies of southern Europe to the final of Euro 2012 after scoring twice in the first half against Germany - one unstoppable scorcher - to set up a challenge against Spain.

Although Italy did not win the tourney, it was Balottelli who proved to be a star and was named in the team of the tournament. He was part of the tournament’s six joint high scorers.

It was his goal against Czech Republic that ensured that Italy qualified for the World Cup in Brazil. His two goals at the Confederations Cup also ensured that Italy qualified to the semi-finals for the first time ever. 

Balottelli had checked all the boxes.

The Grass

Strikers are not notorious for getting booked in games but Balottelli defies the odds.

Yellow and red cards seem not to be too far away when it comes to the temparemental striker. He has also served so many suspensions and game bans imposed on him by his club and the football association. His squabbles with colleagues and managers are infamous. Even tough head Mourinho has described him as “unmanageable.” 

In 2012, it was his altercations both on and off field, coupled with a militant British press’ coverage of a disturbed, black Italian boy that edged him out of City.

When celebrating a goal in the Manchester derby, he unveiled a shirt that had a message for the press: “Why always me?”

Mancini could no longer contain Balotelli and he authorized his sale to Milan. After receiving a red card in a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal in 2012, the coach said: “I've finished my words for him. I've finished. He's not a bad guy and is a fantastic player. But, at this moment, I'm very sorry for him because he continues to lose his talent, his quality. I hope he can understand that he's in a bad way for his future. And he can change his behaviour in the future. But I'm finished. With Mario, it's always a big risk. Every time, we risk one [man] being sent off …”
A year and a half after leaving, Mario was back to the Premier League, this time with Liverpool.

Fully aware of his demons, Liverpool contracted Balotelli to do one job - continue from where Suarez left off.

Unfortunately, Super Mario has not lived up to expectations managing to score only four goals in 28 games. He's now Simmer Mario.

At Liverpool, Balotelli just could not find form or favour from coach Brendan Rogers who publicly criticized him a number of times. Some analysts have attributed Mario’s decline to Sturridge’s injury.

In the games that he played alongside the English man, his performances have been out of the world. Notable among these was Liverpool’s 3-0 away thumping of Tottenham Hotspur. For many others, Balottelli’s very indisciplined and disrespectful nature has gravely contributed to his descent.  

Proving to be a non-asset, the Reds have looked to Belgian striker Christian Benteke this summer for salvation.

In the season of big shots being head hunted with interesting offers from various clubs, Balottelli appears to be asking; “Why not me?” Liverpool would gladly dispose him off but nobody wants a trouble head on their hands.

Sampodria have come around but are willing to take him for a very cheap price. It is as if they are doing Italy’s prodigal son a favour by bringing him on. 

It appears Roberto Mancini’s prophecy may have come to pass as the 23-year old’s luster is gradually dulling. Could this be the end of Balottelli?

Maybe not. Balottelli has consistently proven to be the epitome of sheer maverick-ness and he may just pull that up in the upcoming season.