Week 1 – Mario Balotelli
As Liverpool and Manchester City continue their rivalry in the EPL’s two-horse title race, a man vital to both clubs’ recent history – and that of the league itself – quietly fades into footballing obscurity. This is the polarising player who assisted the most famous goal in City’s – nay the Premier League’s history. Yet this is also the same striker who couldn’t buy a goal in Liverpool red just two years later. This week we rewind the Premier League career of Mario Balotelli.
Premier League Prodigy
Balotelli was always prodigiously talented, as a host of his former managers would attest down the years. It was is work ethic and maturity, however, which more often than not let him down. Having won the Champions League under Jose Mourinho at Inter as a teenager, Balotelli came to the Premier League under future Italy boss Roberto Mancini as a raw talent. He saw game time in that first season, but was not the focal point – playing second fiddle to the main main Sergio Aguero. A return of 10 goals in 28 games represented a commendable first foray into the English game – but it would be his second for which he is enduringly remembered on those shores.
The 2011-12 season is often regarded as one of the best in recent memory, with an absorbing relegation battle, and the title race between Mancunian rivals City and United going to that fateful final day. Balotelli had certainly contributed to City’s charge, bagging 17 goals in 32 games and proving crucial off the bench. And off the bench he came, late on the final matchday, to play THAT through ball to Aguero in the dying embers of the game. The rest, as they say, is history.
But that was as good as it got for Balo in Manchester, and following a disappointing follow up season, he departed for A.C Milan and partook in a World Cup campaign as Italy’s leading man following an outstanding 18 months.
Rotten in Red – Mario’s English Nightmare
It was following this World Cup campaign that Balotelli received a ticket back to the EPL. A £16 million move to Liverpool came about as the Reds desperately tried to fill the Luis-Suarez-shaped hole in their attack.
But Balotelli was not the striking saviour the Kop faithful had hoped for. Question marks surrounded his mentality on his arrival, and his terrible start ensured they would not go away. In a season in which Liverpool had arguably their worst squad ever assembled in the EPL era, Balotelli epitomised their failed squad-building policy, headlining an abysmal attack of Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini.
One incident in particular perfectly captured the essence of his time on Merseyside. In a European game against Besiktas, Liverpool won a penalty. What ensued was a comical tussle for the ball with captain Jordan Henderson as confusion reigned as to who was the assigned penalty taker. Balotelli prevailed – and scored his final goal in red; however the incident overshadowed what had been a dour Anfield night and ensured Balotelli’s already-poor reputation would plummet further.
A woeful few months was cut short as Balotelli would return on loan to Milan – but the confidence and swagger which had defined his early career had deserted him. With the Jürgen Klopp era beginning in the summer of 2016, Super Mario as he was once known was moved on to Nice on a free – thus ending his polarising Premier League career.
So what is Balotelli’s EPL legacy? Well, the blue side of Manchester will always remember him as the mercurial, yet unfulfilled talent who was a key figure in that first title win. The red side of the Mersey, however, will shudder at the thought of a man badly out of form and confidence who found Luis Suarez’s boots too big to fill. Whichever group you find yourself on, one fact remains inarguable; his impact, and infamy, will live long in Premier League folklore.