Who let Mario Balotelli down?

Hemant Abhishek

As the news that Manchester City will be offloading their temperamental Italian striker Mario Balotelli emanated from the club headquarters at the Etihad Stadium, football pundits and English Premier League fans said it was a decision long awaited.

In his two-year-long stint at the club, Mario was time and again slapped on the wrists by the club management. He was also cautioned by manager Roberto Mancini for his lack of professionalism. It seemed the talented 22-year-old lad just wouldn’t listen.

Mario missed 11 games last season due to disciplinary reasons and has started for the citizens only eight times this season.

But one can’t really blame Mancini for feeling short changed. He backed Mario, brought him along from Inter Milan, but seldom was his faith repaid. And now, he has all the reasons to sell the moody striker off.

Love him, hate him, but you just can’t ignore Mario Balotelli. Or keep him away from headlines. The temperament of City’s jack-in-the-pack has let fans, team management, and him, down far too often for any body’s liking.

Mario’s skillful game play for the Azurri during the Euro 2012, and his composure in the dying minutes of the title-decider against QPR, spoke volumes of his potential. But that potential has seldom translated into a monumental show on field though he manages to steal headlines, come what may. But what begs to be answered is how he manages to stare in the eye of the storm for non-football reasons. Or quite simply put — ‘Why Always Him?’

Broadly speaking, three major factors could be blamed for Mario Balotelli’s downfall.

His coaches and those around him

Like a rampant river waiting to be harnessed or an untamed steed yet to be bridled, Balotelli’s exuberance, skill and yet untapped potential hasn’t failed to catch the eye. Reports emanating from Italy linked him to AC Milan whose owner, former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, reportedly called him a ‘dream’. But along came statements like ‘no one can afford Mario in the Serie A’, and showed how reluctant European football’s bosses were of investing in him."

Mario is an unbelievable player, but sometimes he can be angry with himself," his City teammate Yaya Toure told the Manchester Evening News. "But he has fantastic character, and I know he will be one of the top strikers in the Premier League," Toure added.

If such was the case, then why didn’t seniors like skipper Vincent Kompany or even Yaya, for that matter, sit the bonnie lad down for a ‘talk’?

Mario seems to have a purpose and defined goal in the Italian squad. This has often been attributed to the calming influence of seniors — Antonio di Natale, Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Cassano. When Mario broke down after the Azurri’s loss to Spain in the finals of Euro 2012, the ‘fatherly’ Italian coach Cesare Prandelli reportedly told him to hold his chin up and accept that the opponents (Spain) were better. He was expected to return to Manchester with a wiser head on his shoulders. But with Mario you can only expect the unexpected.

Jose ‘The Chosen One’ Mourinho, under whom Mario played at Inter Milan, has been famously quoted that his instructions often fell to deaf ears. Balotelli was red-carded in a vital game when his team lacked strikers. Over the course of his stay at City, Balotelli has been reprimanded far too many times, much to the team’s chagrin. Whenever substituted he almost always stares, gesticulates or swears at the manager (Mancini). That is a true sign of an immature individual struggling to come to terms with the fact that he has just not done justice to his capabilities

.But then it also reflects on the part of the manager and his failed attempts to chastise a ‘bad boy’ and chisel to perfection what could have been an exemplary career.

Media spotlight

Mario Balotelli’s lack of commitment and temperamental inadequacies get relegated to the sidelines and he basks in the limelight by virtue of his tomfoolery. Across the English Premier League one will rarely come across a more talented 22-year-old — or a more colourful character. But it’s ironical that reams of newsprint have been dedicated not to his game but to his on- and off-field shenanigans. When in the Azurri Blues the lad has been at his destructive best, using his dexterity to baffle defenders and land the ball in the net. ‘Super Mario’-esque headlines largely happen only when he is in the British Isles, in the roving eyes of the zealous media.

Grabs of him struggling with the bib, holding the flagpole up to his midriff in jest get splashed regularly in the morning newspapers. With his monkey business getting him all the attention, one wonders if Mario has his hunger of making headlines satiated, and doesn’t find it necessary to exert him on the pitch.

Largely, Mario has been his own adversary

Whenever Balotelli starts for City, there is always an inadvertent possibility of them ending the game with 10 players. Overly aggressive tackling, unnecessary expression of disgust at the officials and lack of interest in training has collectively led to Balotelli’s fall in England. Balotelli alone is to be blamed for that. In fact, his disapproval of referees or T-shirt slogans like ‘Why Always Me?’ shows his craving for attention, lack of which makes him feel victimized. Mario Balotelli’s biggest adversary is his own psyche.Mario has decided to appeal against the GBP 340,000 fine levied on him by the club for his repeatedly poor on-field discipline.

My sincere wish is that he pays the fine and part ways amicably. It will also give him ample time to introspect over the Christmas break.