thumbnail Hello,

The Italy international failed to deliver for the Rossoneri against Atletico Madrid midweek, but the statistics show that nobody should have been surprised.

At an Italian Football Federation press conference Thursday, the conversation, as it so often does, turned to Mario Balotelli’s state of mind. FIGC president Giancarlo Abete was asked if the AC Milan striker’s anonymity in Tuesday’s Champions League defeat at Atletico Madrid was further evidence of the forward’s much-questioned mental maturity.

“I do not think that at this moment the problem is related to his attitude ... the problem is related to the expectation of a greater contribution in terms of his ability to affect the game.”

The implication was clear: Balotelli is buckling under the pressure.

Of course, it may seem ludicrous to question the big-game temperament of a player who struck two goals for Italy in an upset win over Germany in the semifinals of Euro 2012, particularly one who has so often converted penalties with the nonchalance of someone enjoying a kick-about with friends in the park.

BALOTELLI'S NOT SO BIG GAMES
Game
Inter
Fiorentina
Roma
Napoli
Barcelona
Fiorentina
Barcelona
Roma
Inter
Napoli
Atletico
Atletico
Score
1-1
2-2
0-0
1-2
1-1
0-2
1-3
2-2
0-1
1-3
0-1
1-4
Goals
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
YC
1
1
1
0
0
1
0
1
1
0
0
1
RC
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
However, "Super Mario" no longer seems so super, particularly against the top teams. Indeed, it is worth noting that Balotelli has notched just one goal in his 12 appearances for Milan against what could be construed as top-level opposition, namely the top five sides in Serie A (Juventus, Roma, Napoli, Inter and Fiorentina) and the Rossoneri’s seemingly perennial Champions League foe, Barcelona.

Balotelli arrived at Milanello to much fanfare in January 2013. Given he had previously lined out for the Rossoneri’s city rival, Inter, it felt only fitting that his first major outing the following month would be in the Derby della Madonnina. Unsurprisingly, much of the buildup focused on Balotelli. There was a feeling that he was destined to score. However, try as he might, he just could not find a way past an inspired Samir Handanovic as Milan was held to a 1-1 draw.

Balotelli cut an even more frustrated figure in February's crucial clash with fellow Champions League chaser Fiorentina. Just as in the Milan derby, the only lasting mark the striker made on the game was a booking, this time for a poor challenge on Facundo Roncaglia.

Balotelli then made it a hat trick of yellow cards in the May meeting with Roma at San Siro, though he would at least alleviate some of his frustration by netting a penalty in the following week's 2-1 win at Siena, a triumph that saw Milan beat Fiorentina to third place.

However, against top opposition this season, Balotelli cannot even be relied on to do what was once taken for granted, namely the ridiculously cool conversion of spot kicks. Indeed, the enigmatic attacker missed a penalty for the first time in his career as Napoli ended a 27-year winless drought against Milan. Balotelli managed to beat Jose Reina in open play right at the death but there was no masking the forward's frustration and he was almost inevitably dismissed for dissent after the full-time whistle.

He has not been sent off in his eight subsequent outings against quality sides but he has collected bookings in half of those games, underlining that his mood has hardly improved in the interim, which is hardly surprising, of course, given that the consolation goal against Napoli remains his only strike against a top side since joining Milan.

In his defense, his contribution to October's 1-1 draw with Barcelona at San Siro was hindered by a thigh problem that restricted him to a cameo appearance. However, it was telling that he also started on the bench for the return clash at Camp Nou in November, Massimiliano Allegri's decision having no doubt been influenced by a wretched performance against Fiorentina four days previously in which he was lucky to have escaped with just a caution for a ludicrous challenge on Neto.


Why never me? | Balotelli has repeatedly failed to deliver in Milan's most important fixtures

Balotelli picked up another booking, while also squandering a match-winning opportunity, in the 2-2 draw with Roma on Dec. 16 and he saw yellow again as he once more failed to prove Inter was wrong to sell him during another dismal display against his former club just before Christmas.

And then came the breakdown at the San Paolo in February: Substituted after 73 minutes, shortly after missing a great chance to level the game, tears began streaming down Balotelli's face. He had learned that week that he was the father of his ex-girlfriend's daughter, Pia, and it was hard not to escape the conclusion that Balotelli at breaking point, with the Gazzetta dello Sport summing up the mood of nation with the headline: "Are we losing Mario?"

It now seems that Balotelli, after taking the first step on the road to superstardom on that famous night in Warsaw, has already lost his way. Worryingly, after a second successive subdued showing against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, it was reported that Balotelli's teammates were upset by his attitude before and after the game. It seems as if they are now wondering if they can never rely on Balotelli to step up when they need him most, do they really need him at all?

Follow GOAL.COM on

Related

From the web

From the web