Balotelli’s move from Manchester City to AC Milan is complete and anyone who has watched the mercurial striker regress, progress and then regress again over the last two-and-a-half years in the Premier League knows that controversy is sure to follow Balotelli from England to Italy. Just give it time.
What we don’t know about Balotelli is whether being home will allow him to mature as a person and develop as a player. Is he the guy who was the breakout star of Euro 2012 or the malcontent who spent his last few months at Man City as a forgotten, late match substitute?
“This could be an important chance to go back to Italy and play for a big club in Milan,” City manager Roberto Mancini said on Tuesday. “It will be a good chance for him to stay with his family, to play for Milan. I think he can improve and I'm happy he will become one of the best players in the world.”
Mancini was Balotelli’s coach and father figure, their relationship dating back five years ago when Mancini gave the 22-year-old Balotelli a chance at Inter Milan. The two Italians then experienced the highs and lows together in Europe’s top league. Last May, Balotelli rewarded Mancini’s decision to insert him in the final Premier League match against Queens Park Rangers when he assisted on Sergio Aguero’s winning goal in the 94th minute that clinched the title for Man City.
It was a magical moment for the club that for so many years has lived in the shadow of Manchester United, the team Balotelli scored against in Oct. 2011 and unveiled his famous “Why Always Me” t-shirt. But that was last season when everything was going right for Super Mario and City. We were three days into 2013 when Balotelli and Mancini were photographed in the midst of a physical altercation during training. It was an ugly scene.
No one has been a bigger Balotelli advocate than Mancini but Mancini is also Balotelli's toughest critic. The frustration both men were feeling finally reached a breaking point and ultimately Mancini knew in his heart that a move to Italy was good for Balotelli and Man City.
“I spoke with Mario and I think he wanted this,” Mancini said. “After three years in England, to go back to Italy will be good for him. We love Mario and he deserves to have this chance. For me, Mario was like another one of my children. You can be upset with him sometimes but afterwards he's a lovely lad. I've invested a lot of time with all the players. With Mario, maybe more.”
Balotelli’s deal with Milan, pending a physical, runs through 2017. I’d say in a few weeks maybe months he’ll realize that he wasted a good chance at City and that Mancini had his best interests at heart. Who knows, maybe one day player and manager will reunite at San Siro. You almost get the feeling they haven’t seen the last of each other.
On the day Man City said farewell to Balotelli the team failed to score in a 0-0 draw with QPR, the team they beat last May to win their first title in 44 years. In many ways, they already miss "Why Always Him."
“All the players [will miss him],” Mancini said. “When he left the hotel, they were really sad. Mario is a good guy. He lived with us for three years."