Mario Balotelli has returned to Milan to try to kick-start a career that seems to be spiraling out of control. Will we ever see “Super Mario” return to his brilliant best?
FROZEN OUT AT LIVERPOOL
A season of inactivity at English Premier League side Liverpool has left the Italian international striker at the biggest crossroads of his career so far. Having only just turned 25, his best years are still ahead of him but surely he must be aware that time is running out to prove he can get back to something like his 2012 version when he was quite simply Europe’s best striker. When Balotelli returned to England in the summer of 2014, he could never have envisaged that he would only make six starting appearances for the Anfield Road club. But after a catalogue of confrontations with coach Brendan Rogers along with widespread criticism for swapping shirts with Real Madrid defender Pepe at half-time in their Champions League clash and posting an image on social media, which appeared to contain anti-Semitic and racist references, the writing was on the wall. During the summer, Rogers pretty much made it clear that Balotelli didn’t figure in his plans and it was all but confirmed when he splashed out over €30 million for Belgian striker Cristian Benteke from Aston Villa, that time was up for the Italian on Merseyside.
BACK IN FASHION AT MILAN
As he arrived back in Italy yesterday Balotelli said all the right things to the waiting press pack declaring he was; “Happy to be back in Milan, this club is in my heart” but it’s going to need more than words to convince the Milanese public (despite picking up 13000 new followers via Instagram since his return) that this is more than just another quick stop off on his European tour. He declared too that he “Didn’t want to say any more at this time,” going onto explain that, “I have to get down to work to make this a great year,” which is exactly what Balotelli has lacked in his life over the past 18 months or so. It’s going to be hard to cement any kind of place in the Rossoneri starting XI too. Colombian striker Carlos Bacca and Brazilian Luiz Adriano are both at this moment, streets ahead of the Italian in preparation despite underwhelming league debut’s in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat in Florence.
REWARDS FOR GOOD BEHAVIOUR
Having already taken a pay cut to return to the peninsula, Balotelli must also observe a good behaviour clause that has been inserted into his season-long contract. Milan General Manager Adriano Galliani believing that if his club are going to part with €2 million to try to save his career, then the least he can do is promise not to set off fireworks indoors, to dress appropriately at all times and have a sensible haircut. According to Italian sports daily La Gazzetta Dello Sport it’s a similar to clause to the ones new recruits must sign when they join the Italian military.
A WARM WELCOME FROM AN OLD FRIEND
Siniša Mihajlović was an assistant to Roberto Mancini when Balotelli exploded onto the scene at city rivals Inter in 2007 but things will be a little different this time around. Known to be a strict disciplinarian, the Serbian tactician could have his hands full with his new recruit but having evaluated the situation, is prepared to gamble on being the one who can get the best out of this most frustrating of characters. If Mihajlović succeeds then a place in the squad (should the Azzurri qualify) for Euro 2016 in France is not beyond reach. Should the experiment fail however, then Super Mario’s career will be consigned to the history books.
By Steve Mitchell (@barafundler)