Inter’s Balotelli is a gamble worth taking for English clubs
Internazionale’s Mario Balotelli may be a disagreeable teenager but he is also one of the most coveted young prospects in Europe.
In recent weeks the 19-year-old has attracted the attention of a host of top clubs including Manchester City and Manchester United. Inter president Massimo Moratti has placed an enormous £30 million price tag on his uncapped protege.
So why is Balotelli so highly-rated amongst European football’s elite?
Born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents, ‘Super Mario’ burst onto the scene in 2008 when he gained national stardom with a thrilling brace against Juventus in a Coppa Italia quarter-final.
The then 17-year-old shrugged his shoulders in celebration. The self-belief in abundance was already evident for all those witnessing the beginning of a new phenomenon.
Balotelli swiftly became the name on everyone’s lips in Italy. Equally adept at scoring goals and creating them for team-mates, he had the talent to rival AC Milan’s highly-rated Brazilian, Alexandre Pato.
But since his blistering display against La Vecchia Donna, the exciting 19-year-old failed to hold down a starting place under both Roberto Mancini and his successor Jose Mourinho.
Nevertheless he has managed to increase his goal tally year-on-year. His highest so far, 11, coming during Inter’s treble-winning season.
In addition to his strikes during the 2009-10 campaign, Balotelli also notched up eight assists in all competitions, underlining his importance as a team player.
One of his most crucial strikes came in the Serie A title race this year when Inter traveled to Udinese.
Within three minutes the Udine team seized the initiative to take a 1-0 lead. But moments later Balotelli unleashed a stinging shot from outside the box to level the match and provide Mourinho’s team with the platform to push on and seal a vital 3-1 victory.
The striker is yet to make his full debut for Italy’s national team despite being described as “the future of the Nerazzurri and Italy” by former manager Marcello Lippi.
He was unable to represent the Azzurri at U-15 and U-17 level as he was still considered a Ghanaian immigrant. He did, however, play for the U-21s at the European Championships last year.
During Italy’s opening game against Sweden, Balotelli opened the scoring within 15 minutes. Unfortunately, later in the same match one of the 19-year-old’s major flaws, his petulance, surfaced and was shown a straight red card for retaliation.
Previously labelled as a “child” by Inter’s Dejan Stankovic, the tantrum-prone Balotelli incurred the wrath of Mourinho on several occasions.
He also famously angered Inter fans when he admitted to being an AC Milan fan at a charity event and later sported the shirt of his team’s bitter rivals on an Italian television comedy show.
He then further aggravated his own supporters when he threw his shirt to the ground after being jeered by his home fans following a lacklustre performance against Barcelona in the Champions League.
There is clearly little doubt that should a move to Manchester United materialise, Balotelli would represent a unique challenge for Sir Alex Ferguson.
Moulding the fiery teenager into a world class forward would represent one of Ferguson’s greatest feats. The 19-year-old clearly has the raw materials to become a modern day great but his temperament could prove a hindrance to success.
His self belief often bubbles over into sheer arrogance, but Ferguson could well be the man to temper Balotelli’s cocky attitude. Roberto Mancini on the other hand, is a keen admirer and already has experience of working with the 19-year-old.
At 6ft3 Balotelli is an imposing figure and coupled with an eye for scoring spectacular goals and the ability to involve team-mates, he represents a gamble worth taking for Ferguson or Mancini should they be willing to match Moratti’s hefty valuation.
And if Balotelli can harness his destructive attitude, he possesses the natural ability to truly become ‘Super Mario’.