By Kris Voakes
In England, Mario Balotelli is fondly remembered. They recall the fireworks in the bathroom, they reminisce about him picking up a bullied schoolboy and taking him back to class, there’s the talk of his crashed car and his boast of wealth to a policeman. But they generally seem to overlook his contribution to Manchester City on the field.
Since his return to Italy with AC Milan, the striker has got himself into more scrapes. He’s been caught smoking in the toilets of a train, had run-ins with opposition fans and been the centre of racist abuse. But he keeps on taking the real headlines for his football too.
Perhaps it is a reflection on the way in which football and footballers are viewed differently between the two countries that Italians are enamoured with Balotelli for on-field reasons and English fans prefer to talk of his darts skills and other extracurricular activities. Or maybe it is simply about just how big an impact the 22-year-old has had on the pitch since returning home at the end of January.
With 11 goals in 11 games, there can be no doubting that he has been a revelation since first donning the red and black - first, that is, unless you count the incident in the restaurant while still an Inter player in 2010!
|MARIO AT MILAN: GAME BY GAME
|Feb 3||Udinese||H||W 2-1||2|
|Feb 10||Cagliari||A||D 1-1||1|
|Feb 15||Parma||H||W 2-1||1|
|Feb 24||Inter||A||D 1-1||0|
|Mar 8||Genoa||A||W 2-0||1|
|Mar 17||Palermo||H||W 2-0||2|
|Mar 30||Chievo||A||W 1-0||0|
|Apr 7||Fiorentina||A||D 2-2||0|
|Apr 28||Catania||H||W 4-2||1|
|May 5||Torino||H||W 1-0||1|
|May 8||Pescara||A||W 4-0||2|
After an opening half to the season in which the Rossoneri struggled badly to create any kind of impression on the Serie A table and subsequently found themselves relying on the amazing sudden rise of Stephan El Shaarawy, Massimiliano Allegri’s men have since found a true talisman in Balotelli.
There may be evidence that he still hasn’t completely matured away from the field, but he most certainly has in game time. He has been thrust into the role of target man, centrepiece, leader even, since joining his boyhood idols, but he has taken to the task like a duck to water. Whereas at Eastlands there existed an oft-used rotation scheme which Roberto Mancini continues to employ in order to keep a large first-team squad happy, there are no questions as to whether Balotelli has a shirt waiting for him each weekend.
And it is that sense of having a home, a purpose and a responsibility which has helped ‘Super Mario’ to be the success he has been for the Rossoneri. While El Shaarawy has had an understandable wobble, Giampaolo Pazzini has found some form. But with Balotelli it is more than just finding form. You get the feeling that he is truly beginning to express himself. This is not a player having a good run, but rather a young man making a statement.
Napoli’s win at Bologna in midweek ensured that Milan will have to qualify for the Champions League by the play-off route in August, but with Balotelli ready and available the extra two games should hold no fears for them. His shoulders somehow seem broader in a red and black shirt, his feet quicker and his chest more pronounced. He is wearing the shirt with pride and he is doing it justice with his demeanour and his performances.
So the foreign press can continue to look at him as the disruptive, hilarious, headline-grabbing larrikin of his Inter and City days, and he will doubtless give them more fuel for the fire in the years to come. But his first 11 games in his favoured colours are simply the start of the maturation of Mario. He may not score goals at a once-a-game ratio forever but the upturn in form somehow feels permanent.Follow Kris Voakes on