There’s a great moment in the 2012 interview between Noel Gallagher and Mario Balotelli when the Italian international promises the former Oasis guitarist his infamous “Why Always Me?” t-shirt. The looks on Gallagher Snr’s face is that of a genuine fan – something we don’t see that often – such is the aura of Balotelli’s genius. He was a much-loved maverick striker with lethal ability and his antics off-the-pitch were just as legendary.
Fast-forward three years and the striker’s days of being the superstar footballer that was a manager’s dream (or nightmare depending on the day in particular).
When Balotelli burst onto the scene as an Inter Milan player, he made plenty of manager’s – and indeed fans – take notice. Here was a player with an incredible and unique talent and personality to boot. It was the former that earned him the respect, and the latter that often tested the patience of managers such as José Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Cesare Prandelli.
When Brendan Rodgers signed the Italian a year ago, he said it was a “calculated risk”. An interesting term when you think about it, but it turns out that Balotelli hasn’t delivered for the Reds. In fact, he hasn’t been the Mario Balotelli that intrigued managers and wowed fans (and vice-versa) in years previous.
Balotelli turns 25 within a fortnight and, not long ago, it was predicted that he should be hitting his peak years around now and playing for one of football’s elite clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Instead, Liverpool have been purchasing attacking players means that the Italian finds himself down the pecking order at both club and, due to poor form, country.
A move out of Anfield is the logical solution and reports of clubs such as Sampdoria and Bologna are prepared to take the 24-year-old back to Serie A, where he first burst onto the scene at the age of 17.
Perhaps it would be best for Mario to go back there. The two clubs widely reported to be keen on him would be good for him – Sampdoria, who finished last year in 7th place would obviously see Balotelli as the obvious replacement for the outgoing Stefano Okaka – and newly-promoted Bologna, who would benefit hugely from a player of Balotelli’s talent, personality and experience.
But Brendan Rodgers has said that the Italian’s future is entirely up to himself. “He is working hard to get fit and we will see when the season begins,” the Liverpool boss said. Indeed, time will tell. But it would be great to see the Mario Balotelli of old back in the back (and almost unavoidably front) pages.
Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)