A glancing header at the weekend saw Mario Balotelli notch his fifth goal of the campaign for Inter and help enhance the burgeoning reputation of a player many Italians are hoping could turn into a legendary figure on the Serie A scene.
Unfortunately, following a series of spates with coaching staff and a pompous opinion of himself, the young Italian has already shown tendencies that have got a number of people in the country concerned the Nerazzurri youngster could be more trouble than he is worth – not that the young Italian of Ghanaian-extract is a unique case. Historically, Italian football can claim to be more blessed than most in it’s ability to produce eccentric, yet brilliant frontmen – think Ravenelli, Di Canio, Vieri and, of course, Antonio Cassano, just to name a hatful.
Having made his debut in the Italian professional game at the tender age of 15 for Lumezzane in Serie C1, Balotelli quickly drew the attention of the leading clubs with his obvious gift and €340,000 saw him join the Nerazurri in 2007. It was from here that the raw and still immature talent was nurtured until his debut for Inter in December 2007. This quick ascension to the top flight would be commendable whatever club team a hungry seventeen-year-old managed to force his way into but in the case of Super Mario he went that step further.
The team that Balotelli would break his way into was the reigning champions Inter, which boasted a stable of strikers including the likes of world-beaters in Adriano, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hernan Crespo. Usually young talent tends to be daunted by players of this ilk and a modicum of bravado would be understandable when you have managed to come to the world’s attention at such a tender age. However, Balotelli pushed the dial from ‘confidence’ to ‘conceited’ almost from the get-go.
The towering forward made the audacious claim as the season drew to a title-clinching close that he would look elsewhere if Coach Roberto Mancini didn’t make him a mainstay of the starting XI. As it happened it was Mancini that was no longer an employee of Inter when the season kicked off again but nobody quite believed Balotelli could have been serious. By all accounts, Balotelli genuinely meant his threat. In context, a seasoned veteran throwing their weight around would have been pushing it at Inter and for a fresh-faced teenage striker with seven games to his name to be making the claims suddenly led to an almighty backlash against the Azzurrini striker.
Commentators and pundits across the peninsula were suddenly made aware of the fact – the ego had landed. Could this be the one thing holding Balotelli back from being an Inter great?
Jose Mourinho remarked that if Balotelli could use just half of his talent in training then he would be one of the best in the world. However, lamented the self-proclaimed Special One, Super Mario lacks the discipline at this stage to even apply 25% of his skill to the task. Having been abrasive with his request for game time from Mancini and seemingly disappointing Mourinho with his attitude, Balotelli has endeavoured to alienate whoever he can in the formative years of his career.
In February, Balotelli missed a flight to Trieste to meet up with the Azzurrini, which saw him clash with Under-21’s Coach Pierluigi Casiraghi. Casiraghi gave the same dejected response as Mourinho and stated that he was more concerned about the talent that Balotelli was seemingly allowing to go to waste than the fact that he had missed the session. The rift with the Azzurrini Coach has since been resolved but it is apparent that it is way too early for the striker to be making enemies if he intends to become the world-beating talent that so many people – including himself – seem to believe he can be.
The comparisons with Antonio Cassano are obvious and, in most cases, justified. Former Lazio and Torino youth team Coach Sergio Vatta went on the record last month throwing the two together as examples of the declining manners and values of the Italian professional game following a petulant and irritating performance from Balotelli against Roma, which saw the youngster attempt to provoke the Roma fans and Cristian Panucci over the course of the contest.
Balotelli has also been weighed against another Milan-based wunderkind by the Italian press, and, in stark contrast, Brazilian Alexandre Pato has imposed himself on the red half of Milan without so much as a whisper out of turn but plenty to show on the pitch. Some have claimed that this is due to the fact that Pato is under the stewardship of Carlo Ancelotti, while Balotelli’s point of reference, Jose Mourinho, suffers from similar problems with his own delusions of grandeur. But it would seem that Balotelli is very much a master of his own undoing.
In fairness to the player, Balotelli has thus far proven that he is a very capable forward. After first notching for Inter in a Coppa Italia clash with Reggina, Super Mario has gone on to score eight times for his employer and featured – usually as a substitute – on nearly thirty occasions. This outlay has been rewarded with a three-year contract to tie him to the San Siro but there is a nagging feeling that it could be too much too soon for the impetuous goal scorer.
Currently able to revel in the absence of Adriano and a renewed sense of confidence from Mourinho, Balotelli has a chance to stake his claim to play a larger part in the Nerazurri set-up next season but continued outbursts and tantrums could see a very hopeful prospect become yet another case of squandered talent. Undeniably Balotelli is a talented and highly gifted individual. He has an imposing figure but is also exceptionally lithe, quick off the mark and able to strike the ball ferociously. But talent in itself does not make the man, especially not in the upper echelons of the professional game.