He's the talk of the transfer window and is firmly in Arsenal's sights but, with the eyes of the world watching him, is Mario Balotelli living up to the hype at the World Cup?
After his match-winning headed goal against England, Goal takes a look at how he got on against Costa Rica and what could be in the offing next for the enigmatic Italian, as Arsene Wenger prepares to hold talks with Balotelli's agent Mino Raiola...
|PERFORMANCE AGAINST COSTA RICA
Suffice to say Balotelli won’t get the kiss from the Queen he demanded in return for a goal against Costa Rica. He was less clinical than he had been in the win over England. This was Balotelli at his most frustrated and his most frustrating, offering occasional hints of his vast ability, but without delivering.
His body language was poor and the caution he collected in the second half was a reminder of his poor disciplinary record. Otherwise Balotelli was too quiet as Italy looked for an equaliser, troubling the assistant referee more than the goalkeeper.
As Costa Rica played with such a high defensive line, he spent much of his time looking to catch them out. In his attempts to do so, however, he spent much of the match offside, something that a player with his pace ought to be able to avoid.
He did burst beyond the defence to meet Andrea Pirlo’s pass, illustrating he has the speed to torment teams who leave space behind the centre-backs, only to prove guilty of a glaring miss when an attempted lob dropped harmlessly wide. Balotelli’s crispest strike, and he has the technique to strike a ball sweetly, was a half-volley Keylor Navas blocked.
|HE'D BE PERFECT FOR...
No one, on this evidence. Arsenal, if he can realise his potential. Therein lies the dilemma: which Balotelli will turn up?
Balotelli’s appeal lies more in his ability than his record, which is mixed. He can be unplayable and a return of 30 goals in 54 games for AC Milan shows he is becoming more consistent but Manchester City tired of his off-field antics and his inconsistency. Balotelli has performed best for managers who have trusted him, such as Cesare Prandelli, but that trust has to be rewarded with performances.
It is his combination of the technical and the physical that gives him such appeal. Balotelli possesses a powerful shot from distance and can hold the ball up and bring others into play, which would both help the Gunners. Most of all, they need a striker to stretch defences. It is something that Olivier Giroud, who has other assets, cannot do.
Balotelli might suit Mesut Ozil’s game: the playmaker likes team-mates such as Aaron Ramsey who can break into space to meet his passes. Italy use him to run in behind defences. That, in turn, creates room for their many midfielders, Pirlo included, while he is mobile enough to drift out to either flank.
He can hold the ball up, as well, and the combination of attributes he possesses enables him to play as a lone striker. He doesn’t require a partner, which is just as well as Arsene Wenger rarely plays with two out-and-out forwards. The Arsenal manager may see Giroud as the known quantity and Balotelli as the wild card, the man capable of doing something different.
As Diego Costa is set to join Chelsea, the Gunners are alone among the wealthiest clubs in really requiring a centre forward. They are closing on Balotelli, too, ending a 12-month search for a goalscorer that encompassed attempts to bring in Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez last year.
|WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
A match against Uruguay to determine if the Euro 2012 finalists can qualify for the last 16 of the World Cup. After that, most likely talks with Arsene Wenger over a move to Arsenal.
Where the ever-entertaining Balotelli is concerned, however, predicting the future is a dangerous business. More often than not, no one knows what he will do next.