Mercurial Mario Balotelli must not squander Milan chance

No one knew quite what to expect from the eccentric entertainer Mario Balotelli at Manchester City. Now he has gone to AC Milan.

A smiling Mario Balotelli ahead of Manchester City's FA Cup tie against Watford earlier this season.
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Arrivederci Mario. Manchester City said farewell to the maverick who played a pivotal part in winning the FA Cup and the Premier League with Roberto Mancini giving an indication of the mixed feelings at the club, the relief and sadness about his departure.

"It's important for him to go back to Italy," the City manager said.

"It will be a good chance for him to stay with his family, to play for AC Milan. Mario was like another one of my children. But you can be upset with him sometimes, but afterwards he's a lovely lad."

Or, as Pablo Zabaleta put it a couple of months ago: "Sometimes you laugh at what he does and sometimes you want to kill him."

Balotelli's gift is a talent that means he could rank alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo among the world's best players. But, though only 22, he stands accused of squandering it.

He leaves City having scored a solitary Premier League goal in 14 appearances this season and he goes to join AC Milan whose owner, Silvio Berlusconi, had called him "a rotten apple" earlier in the month.

If that, coupled with his past at Inter Milan, made AC Milan an unlikely destination, few things are straightforward where Balotelli is concerned.

Born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents, he was fostered by Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, who named him Mario. He has had an awkward relationship with his biological family whereas his adoptive parents have proved much more supportive.

A footballer of physical power and natural ability, he debuted in Serie C at just 15 for Lumezzane.

He soon came to the attention of Inter, who signed him for just €340,000 (Dh1.6m). Mancini gave him his Serie A bow at 17 and, when Jose Mourinho replaced him as coach in 2008, Balotelli began to feature more often.

He became Inter's youngest scorer in the Uefa Champions League and, after refusing call-ups from Ghana, became an Italian citizen in 2008. Following appearances for their Under 21s, he played his first full international in 2010. He went on to become the first black player to score for Italy but his skin colour had already made him stand out.

He was racially abused, particularly by Juventus supporters, and besides a special talent, it became clear he had a short temper.

After Mancini's exit, he encountered problems with Mourinho.

"Sometimes he does not know how to use his brain," said the Portuguese, who branded him "unmanageable". Balotelli hardly helped his case by posing in a Milan shirt while an Inter player and he was a fringe figure as Mourinho's team won the 2010 Champions League.

So his mentor came calling. Mancini and Balotelli were reunited in a €22m deal. While injury meant an effect on the side was delayed, the striker became known for his eccentric behaviour.

Over two-and-a-half years in Manchester, stories of improbable antics abounded. Many of them were true: a curious Balotelli was arrested for driving into a women's prison, he did fire air pistols in Milan's Piazza della Repubblica, the fire brigade were called when he set off fireworks in his bathroom and he did turn his garden into a racetrack for quad bikes.

More seriously, there were training ground bust-ups with several teammates and, four weeks ago, Mancini.

He collected four red cards in his brief City career, plus a ban for stamping on Tottenham Hotspur's Scott Parker.

He missed a total of 11 matches last season through suspension and, initially, planned to contest the club's decision to fine him two weeks' wages for it.

The last of those sendings-off came at Arsenal in April. Afterwards, Mancini said Balotelli was "finished" at City, although he later said he only meant his season was over. But it was not.

Balotelli had helped swing the title race their way when, in a performance of destructive brilliance, he scored twice in their 6-1 win away at Manchester United in October 2011. He returned to make a final telling contribution, providing the pass for Sergio Aguero's title-winning goal on the season's final day.

The calmest penalty taker around, Balotelli again illustrated that he could be the man for the big occasion.

He had been man of the match in the 2011 FA Cup final. He propelled Italy to the final of Euro 2012, scoring twice against Germany.

The problem was that no one, even his great champion Mancini, knew which Balotelli would turn up, the destroyer or the player with the self-destructive streak.

And so Balotelli was granted a return to Italy. For the next four-and-a-half years, he will be a Milan player. The guarantee is that they will be eventful.

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