Fireworks in his house, £5,000 cash on his passenger’s seat and a £1,000 Christmas round for strangers, Mario Balotelli is simply a tabloid journalist’s dream.
The enigmatic Italian has. for the time being, ended his turbulent time at Liverpool this week, with a return to AC Milan on a season-long loan deal.
Initially seen as a coup at only £16 million, Balotelli endured a nightmare spell on Merseyside last season, which saw him training away from the first-team at the start of this term with fellow outcasts Fabio Borini and Jose Enrique.
Balotelli began his career with Italian third division side Lumezzane at the age of 11, making his first-team debut at the age of 15. After a failed trial with Catalan giants Barcelona, the forward was signed by Inter Milan in 2006, where boss Roberto Mancini gave a 17-year-old Mario his debut in 2007 in a 2-0 win over Cagliari. The striker made a real impression in his early days which garnered national attention when he scored a brace over Juventus in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals that same season.
In November 2008, Balotelli became Inter’s youngest Champions League scorer, netting against Anorthosis Famagusta aged 18 years and 85 days. However, throughout his second season with Inter, he suffered with disciplinary problems, constantly at loggerheads with new head coach Jose Mourinho. These problems continued over into the 2009/10 season, with Balotelli often being criticised by the Portuguese coach, his agent, and his fellow team-mates, most notably fully fledged internationals Javier Zanetti and Marco Materazzi. He also came under heavy fire in March 2010 from his own fans as he was seen sporting an AC Milan (Inter’s rivals) jersey on national television.
In August 2010, Balotelli reunited with former coach Mancini at Manchester City, after City agreed a fee of £24 million. But in England, the striker’s controversies continued to blight his career, with Mario missing 11 games through suspension alone in the 2011/12 season. After City lost 1-0 to Arsenal in April 2012, Mancini stated that Balotelli had played his last game for the club, although he did make a historic appearance in the final game of the campiagn against QPR as a late substitute. In the 94th minute of the game, with the score at 2-2 and with Manchester United on the verge of retaining their title, Balotelli provided the assist for Sergio Aguero, who scored to famously snatch City their first Premier League trophy and first league title since 1968.
Soon after however Mario found himself back in Milan, this time playing for the Rossoneri, signing for £14.5 million in the 2013 January transfer window. He endured a blistering start to life back at the San Siro, scoring 12 goals in 13 games. His first full season in Milan colours was less fruitful though, but he still managed a decent return with 14 goals in 30 league appearances. By the time Mario left Milan, again for upsetting those higher up in the club, he had scored 26 goals in 43 Serie A games.
Balotelli then joined Liverpool, who had finished as runners-up in the Premier League in 2013/14. But once again many people’s fears were realised as a poor attitude and below-par displays saw him score once in 16 appearances, quickly sparking rumours that the Reds were keen to ship him out, which has now happened with his return to Italy.
Internationally, Balotelli has become almost a regular since becoming a naturalised Italian. He became the first black player to don the Azzurri shirt, and has been included in every major tournament for Italy after the 2010 World Cup; including the 2012 Euros, where he helped his side to the final, the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup.
However, controversy has followed him in the blue of his country too. Since the World Cup in Brazil he has yet to feature under new boss Antonio Conte, who rightly hasn’t been impressed by the striker’s antics or form over the past 12 months.
There’s no question Balotelli’s true potential has frustratingly yet to be realised, with countless controversies marring his career to date. With any hope, and a great deal of luck, maybe the striker can resurrect his career in the Seria A and get back in the Italy squad for Euro 2016. But, just as Brendan Rodgers said last month, “it’s all down to Mario”.