Mario Balotelli is now officially a Liverpool player, after the club completed a stunning deal to bring the 24-year-old move to Anfield from AC Milan. Henry Jackson takes a look at the fascinating career of the enigmatic Italian.
Mario Balotelli’s move to Liverpool is undoubtedly one of the biggest transfer stories of the summer, and is one that will make the whole of Europe sit up and take notice.
The 24-year-old has joined the Reds from AC Milan for a fee thought to be £16m, and he represents the high-profile striker that Brendan Rodgers has been looking to bring in since the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona.
Despite ‘Super Mario’s’ relatively tender years, his career has been incredibly action-packed to date, and there is never a dull moment where the Italy international is concerned. Here is a look back at how his career has progressed over the years.
In the summer of 2006, 15-year-old Balotelli impressed while on trial at Barcelona, but his citizenship was an issue. The teenager was only able to officially become an Italian citizen at the age of 18- his foster family had not adopted him- and this scuppered the move.
Instead, the striker was snapped up by Inter Milan on 31st August 2006, initially on loan from Lumezzane and later, having excelled, on a permanent basis.
The following year proved to be Balotelli’s breakthrough season with the Nerazzurri, with then manager Roberto Mancini handing him his debut in December 2007, coming on as a substitute in a 2-0 victory.
In their following game, a Coppa Italia clash with Reggini, he starred in a 4-1 win, scoring twice to further enhance his steadily growing reputation. Better was to come later in the same competition, when his double against bitter rivals Juventus helped send Inter through to the semi-finals. At this stage he was still just 17 years of age.
His first Serie A goal came in a 2-0 victory over Atalanta in April 2008. The youngster was holding his own in a squad containing world-class talent like Javier Zanetti, Luis Figo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Mancini’s men would go on to clinch the Scudetto that season.
Balotelli’s season wasn’t done there, however, and his goal in the Coppa Italia final against Roma helped take the game to penalties. Inter prevailed in the shootout, clinching the league and cup double in the process.
The highly-rated striker continued to impress during the 2008/09 season, scoring 10 goals in 31 appearances. He wasn’t always a regular under new manager Jose Mourinho though, mainly because of his poor attitude and failure to get on with the Portuguese coach.
He was also racially abused by rival supporters on an alarming number of occasions, in particular Juventus fans, and it was something that would continually happen during his time in Italy.
Having been granted Italian citizenship in the summer of 2008, Balotelli was called up for the Italy Under-21 side, and scored on his debut against Greece. He went to the Under-21 European Championships in Sweden, and as a sign of what was to come in terms of his unpredictable nature, he both scored and was sent-off in the opening game against the hosts.
The 2009/10 campaign would prove to be Balotelli’s last at Inter, and it was a tumultuous, but ultimately memorable year for the Italian.
His relationship with Mourinho was still strained, and it all came to a head prior to Inter’s Champions League second round second-leg showdown with Chelsea, in which Balotelli was excluded from the matchday squad after an altercation with the current Blues boss.
After a troublesome few months, which included being reprimanded by a number of senior players at the club for his behaviour, and criticised for wearing an AC Milan shirt on Italian television, he was recalled to the side in April 2010. When he threw his shirt to the ground following the Champions League semi-final win over Barcelona, as a response to the Inter fans who had booed him previously, his position at the club became untenable.
Although he had played his part in Inter winning an unprecedented treble, Balotelli’s future lay elsewhere.
Balotelli signed for Manchester City on his 20th birthday in a big-money move, linking up with former manager Mancini in the process. Three days prior to that he also made his debut for Italy, in a friendly with Ivory Coast.
Because of injury, he didn’t make his Premier League debut until October of that year, and he scored his first goals in a City shirt in a 2-0 win at West Brom in November. He was also sent-off in the game, following a clash with Baggies midfielder Youssuf Mulumbu. A month later he scored a hat-trick against Aston Villa.
Balotelli’s season ended in glory, not for the first time in his short career, as City beat Stoke 1-0 in the 2011 FA Cup Final at Wembley. His performance was exceptional on the day, and he was deservedly named Man of the Match. He finished his first season in England with 10 goals in 28 appearances.
His supreme talent and unique personality had made him a real fans’ favourite in Manchester, with tales of various off-field antics, including giving £1,000 to a homeless man and driving to a women’s prison because he fancied a look around, making him even more popular than he already was.
Balotelli’s second season at City was an impressive one. He started the campaign off in fine form, and his two goals in the unforgettable 6-1 win against rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford in October 2011 enhanced his reputation further. His ‘Why Always Me?’ celebration will live long in the memory.
He also scored his first ever Italy goal the following month, in a 2-0 win over Poland. He currently has 13 goals to his name in 33 appearances for his country.Azzurri.
Despite the high points in 2011/12, there were plenty of lows too. He received his fourth red card of the season after a poor challenge on Arsenal‘s Bacary Sagna in April 2012, and he was blamed for City’s 1-0 defeat on the day.
Although that defeat left City’s title chances in tatters, United’s capitulation meant they just had to beat relegation-threatened QPR on the final day to win the Premier League. With the scores level at 2-2, Balotelli found Sergio Aguero in the dying seconds with a clever pass, and the Argentina striker did the rest. That assist ensured the Italian had forever etched his name into City folklore.
It was a memorable end to the domestic season for Balotelli, but he wasn’t done there. He finished joint-top scorer at Euro 2012, and scored twice against Germany in the semi-final to fire Italy into the final. Although they lost to Spain, Balotelli had impressed hugely.
Despite scoring 12 goals in 13 matches during the first-half of 2012/13 at the Etihad, Balotelli was sold to former club Inter’s great rivals AC Milan in January 2013. He had missed 11 games for City for disciplinary reasons, and was also struggling to nail down a regular place in Mancini’s starting XI, and a move seemed to benefit both parties.
His Milan career started in superb fashion, scoring five goals in as many games. He became an instant hero at the San Siro, and was seen as perhaps the only world-class player in a squad lacking the household names of old.
He finished the Serie A season with 12 goals in just 13 appearances, strengthening his reputation as one of the best strikers in the game.
Last year was not one of Balotelli’s most productive, and although 18 goals for the season was far from a poor return, he struggled to hit the heights of 2012/13. Similarly, his displays for Italy at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil were lacklustre, and along with England they failed to even get out of a group containing Uruguay and Costa Rica.
With Balotelli seemingly preparing for the new Serie A season with Milan, reports emerged on Wednesday that Liverpool and the Rossoneri were in talks over a deal for the 24-year-old.
Unlike some transfer business this summer- Alberto Moreno springs to mind- the deal went through fairly quickly and Balotelli may now even face his former club City in Monday’s Premier League showdown.
The Reds have acquired an exceptionally talented striker, and one who is still young enough to improve greatly. Rodgers will have his work cut out when it comes to dealing with his quirky ways, but the Italian is sure to become an instant hero on Merseyside.
His career has been unforgettable both on and off the pitch to date, and we are about the witness the next chapter close up.
What are your thoughts on the signing of Mario Balotelli? Let us know in the comments section below.