“Why always me?”
It was a phrase that spawned dozens of memes. Many of them are still floating out there even today. Now nearly five years on, Mario Balotelli, the man behind that seemingly pithy statement surely must be asking himself: “Why always me?”
With Liverpool keen on getting the troubled striker off their books, Balotelli has been linked with a host of clubs. Or rather, his ever-vocal agent Mino Raiola has been offering him to teams across the continent, from England to Turkey to the player’s native Italy. The response, so far, has been the same: “Thanks, but no thanks”.
Even China, notorious for signing some decent, but not spectacular players – just think the likes of Gervinho and Asamoah Gyan – has not come knocking. AC Milan, who brought him in on loan despite then-owner Silvio Berlusconi referring to him as a “bad apple” shortly before the 2014 World Cup, slapped a “return to sender” label on him well before last season concluded. Why the Rossoneri even decided to welcome him back is anyone’s guess, but his parent club Liverpool and manager Jurgen Klopp have made it unquestionably clear that there is no room for him at Anfield.
The “next big thing” becomes the international pariah
From being one of the most promising young talents to outcast. Such has been Balotelli’s rapid decline in just four years. And on the international front, things are not any better. With the Azzurri, his standing has plummeted faster than the value of many technology stocks since the start of the year. Under Cesare Prandelli, he flourished, namely scoring three goals at Euro 2012 – including a brace against Germany – to help fire Italy to the finals, and playing a vital role during the 2013 Confederations Cup as well as finishing as the team’s top goalscorer during World Cup qualifiers.
Although the general consensus was that the writing was on the wall when Prandelli – long a public supporter of the player – departed following a poor World Cup in lieu of Antonio Conte, Balotelli was still given a token call-up. Publicly, an injury was blamed for his failure to feature in November 2014, but as to whether that was the true story will always be a subject of conjecture. The fact that Conte’s five strikers for Euro 2016 – Simone Zaza, Ciro Immobile, Graziano Pelle, Eder, and Lorenzo Insigne – had fewer goals combined than Balotelli’s output (11 vs. 13) made it glaringly obvious what people had always predicted: there was no room for “Super Mario”.
Conte has now said arrivederci to the Azzurri and has now been replaced by Giampiero Ventura, but Balotelli’s international exile is nowhere near approaching its conclusion. It certainly does not help that the player has managed to ruffle the feathers of every manager he has worked with, including Jose Mourinho, Brendan Rodgers, and Roberto Mancini. And at 26, he is no longer a young and naive face trying to establish himself. Nor is he approaching the twilight years of what could have been a glittering career. Rather, he is in what should be the prime of a player’s career. Unfortunately, unlike many of his contemporaries, he is at risk for becoming one of those “what could have been” tales. Of course, that’s if he already has not been dumped on the scrap heap of footballers who failed to reach their potential.
There’s no place like home…or the French Riviera?
Well, like the proverbial cat who has nine lives, Balotelli has been reportedly given another chance to resurrect his floundering career. Italy has been touted as his next destination, and should the deal with Palermo come to fruition, it would truly mark a return to his roots. Furthermore, it could potentially be an ideal match, or, conversely, an utter disaster. If Balotelli is widely regarded as a misfit among players, then club owner Maurizio Zamparini is the equivalent among team executives. Last campaign alone, Palermo went through six different managers. If one counts Giuseppe Iachini’s and current coach Davide Ballardini’s two stints, there were eight changes on the tactician’s bench in just one season. Even by Zamparini’s standards, that is likely an unprecedented record since he acquired the club in 2002.
Yet, as noted previously, it just may work. Palermo barely survived the drop, and having lost key players like Paulo Dybala and recently, Franco Vasquez in the past two terms, not much is expected of the Sicilian outfit. With the glare of the oppressive spotlight largely focused elsewhere, it could be the perfect venue for Balotelli to make another attempt at redemption. After all, society loves a comeback story, and his birth city just may be the place where it begins.
Indeed, the potential arrival of Mario Balotelli should serve as a major lift for the Sicilian outfit, who can be backed at 6/1 to see off Napoli in their next league game.
However, given that his life represents a real life soap opera, there has been yet another twist in the Balotelli saga. Ligue 1 side Nice have recently emerged as a leading contender for his signature due to Palermo’s reported issue with his wages. The team finished in a solid fourth spot last season, but with much of the focus on PSG, the Allianz Riviera would also be a place he could rebound without too much pressure.
So whether it be Italy, France, or elsewhere for “Super Mario”, one thing is certain: At 26, time is running out for him to arrest the downward spiral that threatens to turn a once promising career into a “what could have been” scenario.