You could argue it has been inevitable for some time, but just days before the transfer deadline, it has happened. The curtains on Mario Balotelli’s Premier League chronicle have drawn to a close as a return to the San Siro in the black and red of Milan beckons.
It may have only been two and a half years since the brazen Italian arrived at the Etihad Stadium, but in that relatively short time the striker has shocked us, entertained us, seamlessly snatched the headlines and has so often become the subject of banal pub chat, often without even touching a ball. His seemingly endless list of outrageous antics often left Roberto Mancini in a perpetual state of exasperation, but the rest of riveted, regardless of our personal club allegiances.
Let’s face it; the vast majority of modern day Premier league footballers are dull. Although often shielded and briefed by a barrage of PR’s and agents, the slightest hint of genuine personality is a rarity. Bland anonymity is the preferable choice, which creates the idea of a night out or even a conversation with the likes of Gareth Barry or Michael Owen a chore at the best of times.
But Mario provided that breath of fresh air that English football sorely needed. The mercurial forward was often castigated for wasting his undoubted potential, losing his head at the wrong moment and seemingly doing everything to derail a relationship with his doting football father Mancini. And while these things may ultimately be true, he has kept us enthralled since the moment he arrived.
While the out of touch dinosaurs of the Match Of The Day sofa were prone to the negatives, many more chose to simply enjoy the enigmatic forward. The eternal struggle with a training bib, the five fingered glove hat, the generous donations to the homeless across Manchester and setting fire to his own residence after an unrehearsed fire work show all kept us enthralled.
Mario bordered on the outrageous, and on occasion, the downright sublime. For that botched back heel attempt on an open goal during Manchester City’s pre-season tour of the US, there was that sumptuous performance against Germany in Euro 2012 which fired his nation into the final. For the perceived stamp on the head of England’s sweet heart Scott Parker, there the authoritative performance in that 6-1 win over Manchester United, now eternally defined by ‘Why Always Me.’ And for the countless occasions he was lambasted for being a selfish player simply looking out for himself, there was that selfless assist to the feet of Sergio Aguero in the dying minutes of last season that won City their first Premier League title.
Roberto Mancini once claimed that Balotelli had everything in his power to join Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the upper echelons of the world’s best, if he one day manages to rid himself of the immaturity that so often plagues his game. He may be right, but let’s hope that the transition is accompanied by one or two more endearing tales of Mario in the process.