José Mourinho famously said Mario Balotelli was “unmanageable” during their time together at Internazionale. Roberto Mancini had a physical bust-up with the player on the Manchester City training ground. Just how will Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli tame Balotelli if he takes the mercurial striker to the World Cup?
Oscar Levant, the late American wit once said, “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity”, but while it is clear Balotelli is no genius, there was a time when his name was uttered in the same breath as some of the best strikers in the world. However, since leaving City after a turbulent time in the Premier League to join AC Milan, Balotelli has all but fallen off the radar. Most of the column inches dedicated to the player have focused on his misdemeanors and rows with authority.
Balotelli has often pointed to his upbringing as one of the reasons why he has such a wacky personality. Born in Sicily to Ghanaian immigrants, he was put into foster care at the age of three. He was then brought up by a Jewish family in Brescia and suffered from racist abuse growing up in a predominantly white country. Appearing at a World Cup was probably no more than a dream.
Despite showing promise in Serie A with Inter, his move to City had a profound impact on him as a person. His antics, which included a fight with a bib and the launching of rockets from his bathroom, were pounced on by the English media. His every step was highlighted and scrutinized. However, his talent was never in question, there were just doubts as to whether he was playing in the right country. He decided the answer to that question was no and so packed his bags for Inter’s cross-city rivals, Milan.
The move home may have been the right decision for personal reasons, but the problem for Italy is this is not a vintage period for the national team or Serie A. As such, he cannot boss defenders like he once did – the service is not there. Although the likes of Daniele De Rossi, Riccardo Montolivo, Thiago Motta, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva help form a solid team, those players are still heavily-reliant on veteran Andrea Pirlo.
Furthermore, there are limited strike partners for Balotelli. Giuseppe Rossi is still struggling to overcome a knee injury, Antonio Cassano is past his best and the jury is still out for Pablo Osvaldo at international level. If the Azzurri boss Prandelli can tame and get the best out of Balotelli, it could be a tournament reminiscent of Italia 90, when Salvatore “Toto” Schillaci won the Golden Boot with his six goals and fired Italy to the semi-finals in the process. Unlike a lot of top players, there is little or no pressure on Balotelli. He is no longer held in such high regard and the spotlight at the Brazil World Cup will be shining on Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and to a lesser extent, Wayne Rooney. Balotelli can emerge from the shadows and show the world what he did before was not just a flash in the pan.
World Cup Preview is a daily series providing commentary and analysis of the teams and players participating in this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
By Robert Shepherd