Photo by _ankor

Love him or loathe him, there’s no getting away from the fact that Mario Balotelli is one of those characters who divides opinion in the footballing world.

The Manchester City striker, once dubbed “unmanageable” by his boss Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan, has had a turbulent start to life in the Premier League. But it was certainly entertaining.

Mario was born in Sicily to Ghanaian parents and was adopted by the age of three. He started his footballing career at Lumezzane and signed for Internazionale at 15 years of age after unsuccessful trials at Barcelona.

His time in Milan was far from plain sailing; including many public altercations with manager Jose Mourinho and fellow players. On top of that, he enraged Inter followers when he appeared on Italian television sporting an AC Milan jersey (see video below):

‘Super Mario’ signed for The Blues on August 12th 2010 for a fee of around £24 million, and again he captured headlines for the wrong reasons.

Within weeks of arriving in Manchester, Balotelli graced us with one of the quotes of the season. After crashing his Audi A8, police arrived at the scene to conduct their routinely duties. But that generally doesn’t include finding the driver with £5,000 in his pocket. When quizzed on why he had the wad of cash, Mario replied simply “Because I am rich.”

That was shortly followed by well publicised training ground bust-ups with Jerome Boateng, Carlos Tevez, Vincent Kompany and manager Roberto Mancini.

While at home in Italy, curiosity got the better of Mario when he and his brother decided to drive through the gates of a women’s prison just to see what it looks like. In March, the Italian had to be withdrawn during City’s Europa League defeat to Dynamo Kiev due to an allergic reaction to the grass. Honestly, you couldn’t write it! And then of course there was the incident with the bib.

It would appear that the young striker is also good with his arms. In March it was reported that he threw darts at members of City’s youth team because he was “bored” and later threw water balloons at journalists attending a meeting of Serie A club chiefs in Milan.

But the ‘Golden Boy’ winner also displayed a softer side. After winning £25,000 in a Manchester casino one night, he offloaded £1,000 to a homeless man. Again he showed a more pleasant persona when he discovered a little boy had ditched school for the City training ground as he was being bullied. Mario promptly drove the boy and his mother to the school where he confronted the bully and talked to the school principal.

Balotelli wound up Manchester United fans when he celebrated in front of them after City’s FA Cup win over their rivals. He also saved a special wink for Rio Ferdinand, who was less than appreciative.

Although he is still working on his English, the 20 year old even managed to mess up on live television. After receiving the ‘Man of the Match’ award for his performance in the FA Cup final against Stoke, one reporter asked Mario was that the best he has played for Manchester City, to which he replied “All my season was sh*t, can I say that?…” Erm, no Mario you can’t.

His no show at the club’s open-top parade through Manchester angered many fans. He was also not present to pick up his ‘Young Player of the Season’ award at the club’s end of term party.

Whilst at home in Milan due to ‘family reasons’, Mario was reportedly involved in a nightclub spat after eyeing up some guy’s girlfriend, who allegedly proceeded to slap him in the face twice. Add that to the many parking and speeding offences and Mario has been a busy boy.

Balotelli has most recently had to play down links with the mafia after being taken on a tour of Scampia in Naples by Biagio Esposito and Salvatore Silvestri – two alleged godfathers of the criminal organisation Camorra.

Of course I should say in-between all this excitement there was some great football displays from Mario – when he looked interested. City fans will be hoping he can improve on his 10 goals next season and keeps his escapades to a minimum, or they may be forced to add another verse to the ‘Ooooh Balotelli’ song.

I for one am a huge Super Mario fan – give me exciting volatile characters over boring predictable good boys like Ryan Giggs any day. Oh wait…