Mario Balotelli’s name precedes him, just as it was with the man he’ll be replacing with his imminent arrival at Liverpool. When Premier League fans think of Balotelli, they think of “Why Always Me”, bathroom fireworks, and his slew of training ground bust-ups with teammates and coaches alike. But just as it’s unfair to refer to Suarez for his lapses in judgment so to speak, without mentioning that he was, indeed, the greatest player in the world during the 2013-14 season, it’s unfair to mention Balotelli without mentioning his talent. Voted by FIFA as the 2010 Young Player of the Year while at Manchester City, Balotelli has a keen eye for goal and his powerful frame and mobility ranks him in the upper echelons of world soccer.
Interesting from the beginning: Having failed a medical at Barcelona, Balotelli was bought by Inter Milan after a year-long loan from his youth club, Lumezzane. Despite becoming the youngest player ever to score a Champions League goal for the club in 2008, Balotelli was first confronted with a problem that still plagues him in his home country – racism. Juventus fans in particular targeted the youngster, even when the two clubs weren’t playing each other! Balotelli also clashed with then-manager Jose Mourinho, causing the Portuguese to repeatedly launch misguided attacks on the player in the media. It was the beginning of the end for Balotelli, and in 2010 he was sold to rising English superpower, Manchester City.
The best of times, the worst of times: A few firsts for Balotelli in a 2010 Premier League match as the Italian scores his first two goals for Manchester City against West Brom, but is later sent off for a reckless challenge on Youssouf Mulumbu.
Why Always Me: A day after emergency services were called to his home after a firework ignited in a bathroom set the house on fire, Balotelli introduced one of his most famous celebrations. After scoring a goal in the Manchester Derby he pulled up his jersey to reveal a matching sky blue t-shirt with the words “Why Always Me” on it. As a result of the firework antics, Balotelli was later announced to be Manchester’s ambassador for firework safety.
Antics, both real and not: Balotelli’s reputation is such that when he’s reported as doing something particularly crazy, you can’t immediately write it off as wacky journalism. Incidents confirmed to be real include: crashing his car days after his City debut (with £5,000 in his pocket), visiting a women’s prison on a whim, and throwing darts at City youth players at the training ground. A few stories were paraded as truth at first, but later revealed as just rumors, such as Balotelli going to a Manchester school and confronting a bully and giving over £1,000 to a homeless man.
This is SERIOUS: During a friendly between LA Galaxy and Manchester City, Balotelli squandered a chance while through on goal by attempting a spinning back-heel that flew wide. He didn’t seem to think it was a big deal, as it was a friendly and he was trying to put on a good show, but City coach Mancini flew into a rage and substituted him immediately.
There’s no place like home: After a series of training ground bust-ups, first with teammate Micah Richards then with Mancini, Balotelli was ushered back to Italy and sold to AC Milan in 2013. Since his move to Milan, his goalscoring rate has improved and he rarely makes the headlines.
Italian hero & family man: Balotelli’s biological parents immigrated to Italy from Ghana before he was born, but at the of age three he was sent to the Balotelli’s, who became his foster parents. After scoring against Germany at the 2012 European Championships to put Italy through to the final, the striker found his foster mother Silvia in the crowd and embraced her. He has become a regular in the Italian national side, scoring the winning goal in Italy’s group stage win over England during the 2014 World Cup.
Some of Balotelli’s best goals:
Italy vs. Brazil friendly, 2013
Milan vs. Bologna, Serie A, 2014
Italy vs. England, 2014 World Cup
Milan vs. Napoli, Serie A, 2013
Manchester City vs. Norwich, English Premier League, 2011 (cheeky!)
Penalty, Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund, UEFA Champions League
The 24-year-old’s antics can be rather entertaining, but it’s his prodigious talent and ability that Brendan Rodgers will be hoping to see on a regular basis for the Merseyside outfit. Liverpool managed to keep Luis Suarez under control during the 2013-14 season, largely in part due to Rodgers’ man-management and the brilliant work of club psychologist Dr. Steve Peters. Suarez kept a cool head and only courted controversy after joining up with Uruguay at the World Cup. Balotelli has already improved his off-field behavior and his exploits on the pitch, and if all goes to plan he’ll continue his growth at Liverpool this season.