When Mario Balotelli retires, he will be remembered more for throwing a dart at a Manchester City youth player, or for hanging out with Mafia bosses, than for anything he achieved on a football field.
That is the way things are headed, anyway. Aged 25, the promise that surrounded the Italian when he arrived in Manchester as a 20-year-old is quickly waning.
He clashed with Jose Mourinho. Roberto Mancini called him “crazy”. Jurgen Klopp doesn’t want him at Liverpool.
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His career remains in limbo, with AC Milan currently unsure whether to sign him permanently from the Reds. His return of three goals in 21 appearances suggests they would be better off looking elsewhere.
Quite where he will be playing football next season is anyone’s guess. A move to Monaco has been mentioned, while some reports claim he will become China’s next big-name signing in the summer.
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Balotelli will reach his nadir if he becomes China’s next marketing tool in their bid to take over world football. The money would be nice, yes, but players don’t go there to improve their CVs.
Which makes it even more sad when his agent, Mino Raiola, says he would have won the Ballon d’Or if only his brain was wired more like Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s.
“Balotelli? If he had Ibra’s head, [Barcelona’s Lionel] Messi would have fewer Ballon d’Or awards,” Raiola told Italian GQ magazine, per FourFourTwo.
That is debatable. Even on his best days, Balotelli has done little to draw comparisons with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
But you get the message. If Balotelli treated football like a job and not simply a hobby, we could be mentioning him in the same breath as football’s best strikers.
Raiola’s comments are very similiar to those uttered by Mancini in 2011.
Mancini, who managed the forward at Inter Milan and City, acknowledged that only an immature attitude was holding him back from being a great player.
“If we want to talk about Mario the football player, we can put him in the first five players in the world," Mancini said, per ESPN.
“I hope for him, for football in general, we arrive at the day when Mario has changed completely his mind because after this he becomes one of the best three players in the world, like Messi, like Cristiano Ronaldo.
“The problem is because of his age, he can make some mistakes. He's Mario. He's crazy - but I love him because he's a good guy.”
Five years on, things sadly haven’t changed.