The Italy striker looks set to leave AC Milan this summer for a cut-price fee but despite being an often frustrating figure, the former Manchester City man is capable of genius
By Harry Sherlock
Mario Balotelli has endured a difficult year. A member of Italy's World Cup squad, the firebrand striker scored, somewhat inevitably, against England but was a peripheral figure in subsequent defeats to Costa Rica and Uruguay.
Italy, like England, crashed out at the group stages and Balotelli's poor showings at the tournament, according to AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi, cost him a £28 million move to Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger, keen to land a marquee signing before his acquisition of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona, held extensive talks with the Italian's agent over a move for the former Manchester City star.
Berlusconi, though, was left aghast after the tournament in Brazil, exclaiming: "Who will buy him now?"
"Other than Italy, I'm the one who lost at the World Cup," he said. "I was selling Balotelli to an English team for several millions, but, after this World Cup, who will buy him now?
"I was going to sell it to a top English club for €35 million, now the deal has stalled."
Goal understands Milan are still keen to offload Balotelli and now value him at just £15.8m - a fee which could represent a bargain, despite the striker's previous indiscretions.
During his spell in England, the Italian found himself at the centre of several newspaper stories - not all of them true, according to the man himself - while his disciplinary record is something to behold. His 71 career bookings fall just short of his 88 career goals. He has been sent off six times.
A famous story told by Jose Mourinho, his former boss at Inter, tells of how he spent 14 minutes of his available 15 at half-time trying to convince a booked Balotelli to simply focus on scoring and not become involved in any physical battles. In the 46th minute, the story goes, Balotelli was shown a second yellow.
He can certainly get under the skin of his coaches. His training ground spat with Roberto Mancini is a prime example, while Mourinho once claimed he "came close to a zero rating" after a particularly poor performance.
But so much has been expected of the striker, from his formative years at Inter up until this summer's World Cup, that it is easy to forget that he is just 23 years old.
Would he be such a poor investment? In 2013-14 he hit 18 goals in all competitions for AC Milan, while providing a further eight assists. Compared to Olivier Giroud, Arsenal's go-to goalscorer, the stats reflect well; Giroud hit 22 goals with 12 assists. Neither were considered to have had great seasons, but the goals were there.
Balotelli would be keen to return to England, namely with Arsenal, having won the Premier League and the FA Cup at the Etihad Stadium during his initial stay on these shores. A world-class player on his day, one would expect a number of clubs to at least weigh up the pros and cons of coming up with the cash to sign the striker.
He is, after all, capable of the exquisite. See City's vital 2011-12 clash with QPR. With the clock ticking down and the pressure on, Balotelli collected the ball on the edge of the box. The score at 2-2, his next move was crucial and, through a throng of bodies, he found Sergio Aguero. Two touches later Manchester City were champions. It was his only assist during his time at Eastlands.
He has scored all kinds of goals; a 30-yard stunner against Brazil for his country; an expert header against England this summer; a shrug of the shoulder against Norwich, and the cool, calm finish which set City on their way to a landmark 6-1 win at Old Trafford. 'Why always me?'.
One thing seems certain; a move away from Milan is beckoning. Berlusconi has long made his mind up and Balotelli is on his way out, with the club keen to put a move in place before the International Champions Cup on July 24.
His suitors should be queueing around the block.