It seemed to be an exceptional piece of business when Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini acquired the 20 year-old Mario Balotelli for £24 million, from then Italian champions, Inter Milan.
It has been a well known fact since his time with the Nerazzurri that the Italian starlet possesses an extremely fiery temperament, but he wouldn’t be the first petulant young player to develop into a star footballer.
The quality of the player was there for all to see. A physically strong and fast individual, City fans were entitled to be extremely excited about the development and progression of the youngster.
But his debut campaign in England was full of drama – more than anyone could ever have anticipated. His superb performances were coupled with on-field tantrums and ignorant comments about Arsenal’s Jack Wilshire.
More recently, ‘Super Mario’ was involved in yet another controversial incident at the weekend, with his disrespectful spinning back heel kick against LA Galaxy in a pre-season friendly. Consequently, serious questions are being raised regarding the player’s character and ability to cope mentally with the demands of playing at the highest level.
Criticism from within
Players have to deal with criticism on a regular basis in football, but it is rare that the criticism derives from one’s fellow teammates. Through his antics, Balotelli has managed to alienate himself, not just from his rivals, but also from his own club.
The Guardian reported teammate Nigel de Jong as saying: “I’ve played with some strange characters in the past, but it’s the first time I have seen that [the back heel goal attempt].
“It is frustrating, and he has to iron out those issues otherwise it will be a waste of his talent. He has to realise that now.
“All his team-mates are here to help him but he’s his own person and he is the only one who can change his ways.”
At times, Balotelli must feel like the entire world is against him, including his own teammates who have publicly criticised his performances. But de Jong is right – the time is now for Balotelli to set things straight, and improve his attitude to the game.
Not all players are granted a second chance in football, although Balotelli is fortunate that he has such enormous skill and potential, which has consequently granted him more than just the one second chance.
The Italian’s issues at Inter were well documented; his lack of effort in training, his petulant on-field antics that included simulating contact with other players, and wearing an AC Milan jersey on television.
If Balotelli fails to improve at City, he may not be so lucky in his choice at which club he plays at next. The temperamental striker will be 21 come the start of the season, and he needs to transform into an almost completely different character.
Mancini v Mourinho
Mancini has been extremely supportive of Balotelli through each and every incident that the youngster has become embroiled in. Balotelli for his part acknowledges his manager’s effort, but he must recognise that Mancini cannot continue to support him unconditionally.
Just last month Balotelli gave a comparison to the media of Mourinho and Mancini: “Mancini is different from Mourinho. They are both great managers, but they are different men. Mancini supports me. Mourinho was different. Whenever I had a problem, Mourinho always went against me. When I have a problem here, Mancini always supports me.
“I think that Mourinho did what he did at Inter Milan because maybe we have the same character.”
But Balotelli is dead wrong in his final assessment of himself, claiming he has a similar character to Mourinho. If the Portuguese mastermind was a player, he would never have attempted that ridiculous back heel that Balotelli did against LA Galaxy.
Mourinho might appear to make brash statements in the media, but he is in fact extremely calculated in his dealings with the press. Mourinho is the definition of clinical, he is a ruthless determined winner – style is not as important as the system.
Balotelli would not be experiencing half of the issues he is currently having, if he was similar in character to Mourinho. This season Balotelli must truly become part of the Manchester club; he must embed himself with his teammates and the culture of the club. If Balotelli has a season that resembles the last one, then the patience Manchester City have for him, will surely run out.
Will Mario Balotelli cement his place at Manchester City this season?