Mario Balotelli has accomplished quite a lot in his short professional career, of that there can be no question. He debuted for C1 side Lumezzane at 15, and broke into the Inter Milan team at just 17, picking up three consecutive Serie A titles, as well as a Champions League medal.
Despite not being a constant starter, and struggling with injuries and discipline problems, he still managed to score 20 goals during the past two years in Milan, and also earned senior honors for the Italian national side, having dealt with persistent racism from opposing fans ever since becoming an Inter regular.
After a prolonged, huge money deal saw him head to Eastlands, he scored the winner on his debut against Timiosora. However, controversy has never been far away from the brilliant player; heavily publicized feuds with former manager Jose Mourinho, Inter fans, and his own team mates, as well as a string of incidents and seemingly mad quotes show the striker’s immaturity and petulance. A perfect example was his sending off om in the match he scored his first two Premier League goals in against West Brom. He was also sent in off similar fashion in a U21 European Championship match against Sweden- minutes after he scored an absolute stunner to give the Italians first blood- to clearly show his amazing skill contradicted with his awful temperment. Balotelli has searing pace, seemingly endless stamina, extremely close control, and a thumping shot that also makes him a threat to score cracking goals from set pieces. At just 20, he already has all the tools to be the world’s best striker.
Yet despite all his talent, he has only played in 11 Premier League matches this year for City due to suspensions and injuries, scoring 6 goals in the process. He has also notched two in the Europa League and one in the FA Cup, but more has been expected from the expensive frontman, who has made only 14 appearances for City overall. In that time, he has had more red cards than assists, and his most recent sending off, in City’s crucial Europa League 2nd leg match against Dynamo Kiev, brings to light more worrying similarities to love/hate figure Antonio Cassano.
Antonio Cassano is just eight years the senior of Balotelli, but his antics and issues have already proved numerous enough for that of many footballers’ careers. The Bari-born forward sealed a €30 million move to Roma from AS Bari in 2001 at just nineteen, and was hailed as the prospect of a generation, Italy’s next great goalscorer. But there was no place for Cassano on the plane to the World Cup in 2002, and the 2006 triumph in Italy was the same story. After falling out with Fabio Capello and a host of other managers at Roma, Cassano was at times totally excluded from first team activities, and Real Madrid ended Roma’s headache when they bought him in January 2006 for just €5 million. After scoring on his debut, Cassano managed just one more goal for Real, and eventually left after finding few friends due to his perceived laziness, and excessive weight gain.
A move to Sampdoria saw his career revitalized the past few seasons, with brilliant goals and assists the norm, but with his fair share of red cards and altercations as well. Sampdoria finally had enough, and he joined AC Milan in the winter window, where 11 appearances in the league have brought just two goals, and a tough task to get into the team with Robinho, Ibrahimovic, Pato, and Inzaghi all in contention. Cassano is blessed with extreme talent, but has never been able to firmly get himself together and become the best striker in the world, and an Italy legend, and has cost himself perhaps the best years of his career pursuing various grievances, real or imagined. All of the promise produced some certainly memorable moments, but he will be more remembered for what he did without the ball at his feet at the end of the day. Balotelli seems to be precariously edging down the same path, and despite Roberto Mancini’s best efforts, he doesn’t seem to have matured at all, with the Italian manager branding his latest bad challenge in the Kiev match “stupid.”
The solution does not seem to be clear. Mancini has tried to coddle Balotelli, but it has also become clear in the past few years that “tough love” seems to discourage him and make him more apt to be defiant. Mancini may or may not have the man-management skills to get the best out of his expensive player, and that may prove to be the problem that could define his career the way it has Cassano’s. Balotelli is undoubtedly one of the best players in the world already based on pure ability, and FIFA agreed by voting him best young player of the year, winning the Golden Boy trophy. But it will take some growing up and some anger management for Balotelli to reach the meteoric heights that are surely possible.