By Kris Voakes
Type the phrase ‘Balotelli needs to learn’ into Google and you will see 1.12 million results staring back at you. As footballing cliches go, it’s one of the most exhaustively used in the modern game. And the past six weeks have seen further need to assess Mario Balotelli’s current state of mind as his AC Milan future has been thrown into doubt by his latest mini-meltdown.
Since his sending off in the 2-1 defeat to Napoli in September, it seems everyone has had their say on Super Mario. His brilliant performance at San Siro despite a first-ever penalty failure should have had everybody purring, but instead the judgements began with his coach Massimiliano Allegri following his act of dissent after the final whistle had resulted in him seeing red.
Allegri, who had warned only 24 hours earlier that Balotelli “must improve mentally”, said of his star man: “It’s best to shut up and leave rather than stay there arguing with the referee, as it’s not going to change anything. Balotelli needs to improve that.”
And the advice didn’t stop there. Allegri and his assistant coach Mauro Tassotti both had more to add after the 23-year-old was handed a three-match ban for his actions, while team-mates Stephan El Shaarawy and Ignazio Abate, and even his former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini, all had something to say about Mario’s need to control his temper.
But after admitting he was in the wrong and apologising to the club, their fans and his team-mates, Balotelli hit back, saying: “Mario got it wrong and Mario apologises, but I don’t want to apologise to everyone because it’s not as if I killed someone.”
There has been all sorts of talk surrounding the No. 45 since his return from suspension and the thigh injury which saw him miss his proposed return against Udinese, including speculation he was assigned a behavioural tutor by Milan. But that story was part of a wider issue in the eyes of the player’s agent, Mino Raiola.
MARIO BALOTELLI | LAST FIVE CLUB GAMES
“In Italy we only talk about politics and Mario,” Raiola told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “To fill the media they have to make up stories like this tutor, and it is ridiculous. With Mario around there are so many stories from his car, to earrings, to his house.
“Everybody has a private life and Mario is trying hard to improve, but the media add all of this pressure.”
But this remains the same Balotelli who claimed in 2009 when playing for Inter: “Sometimes I just want to say 'leave me in peace and let me live my life.' No one really knows who the real Mario Balotelli is,” before later adding, “I am still only 19, I will mature in time.” Four years on, people are still waiting for firm indications of the promised maturity.
Milan did sit down with the striker recently and talk through some of the issues surrounding his demeanour, which resulted in him removing his flashy earrings and promising to move closer to his team-mates in order to feed off their influence. However, the result on the field has been a more withdrawn figure who has been way short of his top form. Even Allegri has been forced to admit that Balotelli has turned in poor performances, and the worry is that the Rossoneri cannot find a happy compromise.
Talk of a move to Chelsea was instigated by Raiola’s displeasure with the negative attention on Mario in Italy, but such speculation soon unravelled, proving to be little more than paper talk. Meanwhile, despite their best intentions to come up with a solution to Balotelli’s behavioural issues, Milan remain at a loss right now as to what action they can really take.
And all the while, the status quo remains. Balotelli continues to be volatile yet capable of producing wonderful moments. Milan's problem is they don’t know how to cool his temperament without jeopardising his genius.Follow Kris Voakes on