Mario Balotelli: What's Next for Volatile Italy, Manchester City Striker?

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterJuly 12, 2012

For Mario Balotelli, this summer has proven a suitably unpredictable experience.

As ever, predicting the future of Manchester City's mercurial Italian international striker is an exercise in pure extrapolation, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun.

The summer began with Balotelli's much-publicized comments about potential racism ahead of Euro 2012. Balotelli, who once had bananas thrown at him in Rome, said he would "leave the pitch and go home" if he experienced racism at the tournament in Poland and Ukraine (Daily Telegraph).

More memorably, he also said, "If someone throws a banana at me in the street I will go to prison because I will kill him."

Balotelli did endure racist chants at Euro 2012, but he did not walk off the pitch (Daily Mail). Instead, Balotelli later produced perhaps his signature moment so far as a professional.

Balotelli scored twice during the first half of Italy's semifinal victory over Germany and celebrated his second with a now-iconic upper-body flex. The celebration has since been imitated around the world and is threatening to overtake "Why Always Me" as Balotelli's signature moment.

Balotelli quickly moved on from Italy's 4-0 loss to Spain in the Euro final. The tabloids exploded with stories and photos of a night out in Saint-Tropez, and The Sun published a candid photo of him enjoying a water ride at an amusement park.

Up next for Balotelli is a return to Manchester City, where he experienced a tumultuous 2011-12 season. The Italian striker was sent off during City's damaging 1-0 loss to Arsenal in April and sat out most of the title run-in.

Afterwards, he was linked with a move away from the Etihad Stadium, but no deal ever materialized.

Now, though, Balotelli is fresh off a star turn at Euro 2012. But will that mean a breakthrough league campaign in 2012-13?

As ever with Balotelli, discipline will be the key. Still only 21 (he turns 22 in August), Balotelli has a long career ahead of him.

But as Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has said, success won't come automatically for Balotelli. From ESPNSoccernet:

He is an incredible player but he does not understand his strength, what he could achieve as a player. Maybe he needs more time.

He has, at most, 15 years as a top player and he is 21 now. He does not know how lucky he is at the moment. But he needs to arrive at that point soon.

For Balotelli, the new season just might prove pivotal.