Balotelli has been added to Cesare Prandelli's provisional 32-man roster ahead of Euro 2012, but will the Manchester City striker behave himself?Mario Balotelli wrapped himself in the Italian flag and was drenched with champagne late Sunday at the Etihad.
From the first minute of preseason until the last thrilling seconds of the Premier League, Balotelli was a one-man opera that seemed destined to end in tragic fashion. Instead, his season at Manchester City concluded with a wild celebration and in some ways vindication.
“I’m proud of me,” Balotelli told a British television station. “I’m proud of my teammates because a lot of people (talked) bad about me. Now, they just have to shut up.”
The transformation from super brat to consummate professional is a work in progress. Balotelli’s attitude and behavior will make you cringe more often than not.
But there is no denying his talent and impact of the 21-year-old Italian. Balotelli was a late substitution during Sunday’s 3-2 win over Queens Park Rangers and set up Sergio Aguero’s 94th minute game-winner which earned City its first league title since 1968.
One month ago, after Balotelli was sent off following a pair of vicious challenges, Roberto Mancini admitted that he would probably sell Balotelli. But winning, especially winning in dramatic fashion, changes things.
"In the last five weeks our only focus has been the league,” the coach told Gazzetta dell Sport. “Mario has been very clear and I reiterate: Balotelli will remain at Manchester 101 percent.''
It is the most unlikely comeback story. Balotelli’s antics with City resonated in Italy where the Azzurri manager, Cesare Prandelli, hinted that the striker would be left off the Euro 2012 roster. But what a manager says in January and what he does in May are two different things.
With Italy hoping to make amends for its disappointing showing in South Africa two summers ago, Prandelli included Balotelli on the Euro roster. It is one of those high-risk, high-rewards decisions.
Balotelli may provide the spark Italy needs to advance in the tournament and establish himself as an important member of the Azzurri heading into the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Maybe, the way Balotelli ended the season with Manchester City will carry over into the Euro Championships.
The high risk, of course, is that Balotelli will become easily frustrated, lash out and compromise his team. He could do exactly what QPR’s Joey Barton did in the second half against City when he was shown a straight red for elbowing Carlos Tevez.
The last 20 minutes were played in front of QPR’s goal. Balotelli nearly headed home the equalizer before City mounted its last-second comeback.
The hope is that Balotelli understood how foolish and unprofessional Barton acted. In fact, Barton even kicked Aguero after being shown a red card and needed an escort to leave the pitch. It was a disgusting display.
Too often, it has been Balotelli playing the part of the fool, starting last July in a friendly against the Los Angeles Galaxy when he nullified a scoring chance by suddenly spinning and trying to back heel the ball into the net.
Mancini immediately pulled Balotelli and the two exchanged words as Balotelli walked to the bench. The ride for the two Italians was just starting.
But on Sunday, Mancini turned to Balotelli at City’s most desperate hour and Balotelli rewarded his manager’s faith.
And now the Euro’s wait for Europe’s most controversial striker. Shut up? Nah, this is going to be too much fun.