Mario Balotelli is back in the headlines again this week. In other news, the sun has risen in the east to reveal that the sky is in fact blue. These are things that should surprise no one. It’s been written over and over again with the same old cliché of him being an “enigmatic” striker. But the fact is that there is nothing enigmatic about Mario Balotelli. Is he capable of conjuring brilliance at a moment’s notice? Of course. Is he capable of doing something so incredibly stupid that it leaves one at a loss for words? Yes, A thousand times yes. The fact of the matter is Roberto Mancini knew all these things when he convinced his bosses at Manchester City to bring him in for £25 million. But it was Mancini’s arrogance in thinking that he could control him and turn him into something that he is not ready to become that has caused this whole debacle at City.
Mario is who he is. The only thing that is going to change him is the wisdom that comes with age. But at this point even that is a long shot. One only has to look as far as Antonio Cassano to see that no matter how old a petulant player gets, there is always going to be some residual of that attitude hanging around the player. The real question is what team is going to be willing to put up with him long enough to get the most out of his wealth of talent. England was the absolute worst place that he could have ended up because of the way the English press will jump on any small hint of controversy. But at this point there really isn’t anywhere that he could go and not be put under a constant media microscope. With his exploits on and off the field his career is going to be scrutinized and analyzed to absolutely no end.
Forget about his off the field issues that he has had. Those are the sort of things that every star player goes through in any sport. If he ever learns to control himself on the pitch then he will have taken that next step to becoming one of the best players in the world. The silly little fights with teammate and being goaded into losing his temper and committing stupid fouls — these are the things that are killing his reputation as a player. A team is willing to put up with some of these things if a player is producing on a consistent basis. But with his erratic performances the upside of bringing him into a club is severely limited. He’s like Tiger Woods minus the mind blowing success. Tiger had always acted disgracefully on the golf course, but when he was winning everyone brushed it aside as him being a perfectionist with an intense will to win. Nowadays since the winning has ceased, people are taking a much harsher view on Tiger and his petulance, viewing him as more of a spoiled child than an intense winner. If Balotelli had come into City, scored 20+ goals and was leading them to an insurmountable lead atop the table, the press and his team would have taken the same view. It’s just Mario being Mario. He wants to win oh-so-badly that sometimes his judgment gets clouded. But instead we’re left with an impressive yet inconsistent goal scoring record and Manchester City choking at the most crucial point of the season. It’s amazing how quickly the narrative can change once the winning stops.
At the tender age of 21, Mario Balotelli is at a crossroad in his life and career. It’s a place that isn’t all that unfamiliar to a person his age. The only difference is that the typical 21-year-old doesn’t have the smallest action they take splashed across the news headlines. With his City career seemingly coming to an end according to Mancini, he has some serious soul searching to do.
My advice to Mario would be to take some time off (which he may have since his place in the Italy squad isn’t exactly guaranteed) and really sit down to evaluate where he is in his life and where he wants to go. Leave the agents, the press, the coaches and various outside influences behind and take some time to soul search. Does he want to buckle down and become that world beating striker who leads his club and country to consistent success? Or does he want to be the temperamental star that is seen as more of a liability despite his talent? If he really wants to be the best soccer player he can be, then he needs to come to that realization on his own and do his best to stick to that path. It’s not too late for him to turn his career and image around, to become that superstar and not just another “What could have been” story. But he needs to start taking those steps soon or else that’s exactly what will be said about him. Mario Balotelli, what could have been?