King of chaos Mario Balotelli on the move again after joining Swiss side FC Sion

Italian striker joins 11th club of career filled with drama and controversy

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The transfer deadline, set for the local leagues in Switzerland at 6pm on Wednesday, was five minutes away when FC Sion despatched their last paperwork to the authorities.

The name on the documents? “The biggest signing since I took over,” according to a beaming Christian Constantin, for 30 years the president of the club.

The name was Mario Balotelli, who had cut it fine with his timing. But then he is an expert in clambering through transfer windows, at creating cliffhanger dramas.

In joining Sion, the Italy international striker has notched up the 11th different club of a storied career, and changed employer for the seventh time in the space of eight windows.

Switzerland’s top division, which Sion last won in 1997, will be the fifth different league of his senior professional career. Those are the sort of numbers that would normally attach to a veteran journeyman. Balotelli is not that.

He only turned 32 last month, which makes him a year younger than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was animating the last day of the transfer window by swapping one Champions League club, Barcelona, for another in Chelsea.

Robert Lewandowski, current holder of Fifa’s The Best award, and Karim Benzema, a shoo-in for the 2022 Ballon d’Or, are two years older than Balotelli.

Time was that Balotelli was more celebrated, more coveted than either, but the level of competition at which he has been operating in since his late 20s traces a steady decline.

His last outing in any Uefa competition was an early 2018 Europa League knockout tie for Nice, the French club where he had a sustained, mostly happy, spell.

There was then a brief stint at Marseille; a sentimental return to Brescia, the city where he grew up, ending in messy disputes; a reunion with some of his old bosses from AC Milan – where he had an exhilarating spell while at his peak – when he joined Monza, now under the watch of ex-Milan president Silvio Berlusconi.

He spent last season and the first few weeks of this at Adana Demirspor, mid-tablers of the Turkish Super Lig. But Balotelli had found a groove there, his 18 goals in 2021-22 enough to make him the division’s second-best marksman.

That adventure reached an explosive end last weekend. After the final whistle of a 1-0 victory at Umraniyespor, his Demirspor manager Vicenzo Montella was so exasperated at Balotelli’s performance after coming off the bench that he had to be physically kept apart from the player.

Nonetheless, Montella wished him well once Sion had agreed a €2.6 million fee for Balotelli. “Happy lift-off,” Montella, known during his distinguished playing career as ‘The Aeroplane’, messaged Balotelli. “You have everything you need to fly again.”

It is a belief in Super Mario’s enduring talent that echoes Balotelli’s most loyal coach, Roberto Mancini, who had several fiery confrontations with him after Mancini brought 20-year-old Balotelli to Manchester City in 2010.

Mario Balotelli shows off his infamous 'Why Always Me?’ t-shirt after scoring for Manchester City against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2011. AFP

Back then, the expectation was reminiscent of Erling Haaland’s arrival at City: Balotelli, a prodigy who had come through the ranks at Inter Milan, would win the Golden Boy award for the best young footballer in Europe that year.

His introduction to City was disrupted by a knee problem but he still scored in his opening two European matches there and hit a brace of goals in his second Premier League start.

History will recall Balotelli’s pass setting up the Sergio Aguero goal that clinched the title the following season; it will also remember him for the controversies, the training ground clashes, the ‘Why Always Me?’ T-shirt.

Mancini, now managing Italy, never forgets Balotelli. He issued the last of several international recalls to him as recently as January, for an Azzurri training camp.

Current Italy manager Roberto Mancini is a long-term believer in the talents of Mario Balotelli.

Alas for Mancini and Balotelli, Italy’s failure – partly because of poor finishing by other strikers – to qualify for November’s World Cup excludes the fairy-tale possibility of Balotelli adding to his 36 caps (14 goals) on the greatest stage.

The link-up with Sion should generate storylines. This is not a club famed for its stability. The current manager, Italian Paolo Tramezzani, is in his third spell, and, approaching the first anniversary of his appointment.

It counts as a very long one by the volatile standards of club president Constantin, who has changed managers a startling 40 times in the last 20 years, sometimes stepping into the job himself in between firings and hirings.

Constantin was once banned from stadiums for a season for assaulting the former Swiss national team’s coach, Rolf Fringer. “He’s passionate,” acknowledged Tramezzani of his boss, “but he’ll get on well with Mario. They’re both good, honest men.”

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Updated: September 02, 2022, 6:30 AM
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