UnstoppaBal - Mario is THE Man for the Big Occasion
Manchester City may have clinched their first title in 43 years in a dramatic finale at The Etihad Stadium last May against QPR, yet psychologically it was the 6-1 victory at Old Trafford many months earlier that had truly shifted the power to Manchester’s blue half.
And the man who opened the scoring that day with a brilliantly taken goal before revealing a now infamous T-shirt stating "Why Always Me?", well who else could it be?
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Mario Balotelli repeated the trick at The 2012 Euros in the summer when his native Italy faced the hotly tipped Germany in the semifinal. He rose to the occasion with arguably the performance of his life and scored two of his most memorable goals.
Though Italy would go on to lose 4-0 in the final to the majestic Spain, the tournament was a personal triumph for Mario.
However, the highs of last season have contrasted with the lows this season of fighting with his manager and struggling to nail down a regular spot in Mancini's team. This is to the great detriment of Manchester City, whose fortunes would change if Mario was allowed to take out his obvious frustrations on the pitch.
Sunday's game at The Emirates gives Mancini another chance to correct the error of his ways and save City's season.
When Mancini’s men traveled to the Madrid cauldron at The Bernabeu in September and Balotelli was not even named among the substitutes due to an eye injury, The Sky Blues looked a shadow of the team who won The Premier League.
A five-man midfield and attempt to nick a point was always going to catch up with them against Ronaldo and Co. They lost 3-2, and that was largely thanks to a brilliant performance from Joe Hart despite having a late lead. It has been the story of City's season so far and certainly of their Champions League campaign.
BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson is one of Balotelli's biggest critics and coined the oft-quoted phrase: "We could see 'Super Mario' or 'Stupid Mario'..."
Yet without Balotelli’s swagger and confidence, the fearless unpredictability that makes him as much as a nightmare for defenders as he is to managers, Manchester City are also-rans at the very highest level.
For all their embarrassment of riches and the goals of Tevez, Dzeko and Aguero, it is Balotelli who lends the Sheikh Mansour millions their true authority on the pitch. Naturally, the spine of Hart, Kompany and Yaya Toure behind him helps, yet he is the figurehead who does the ultimate damage.
Balotelli’s antics and misdemeanors are legendary, but they should not detract from his football achievements or deter serious football debate about him. Still only 22, he won the Champions League, the Italian Cup and UEFA Supercup as well as three titles at Inter, who have not won Serie A since he left, and the FA Cup and Premier League title at Man City.
He has five goals in 21 appearances for the full Italy national team, or three in five in tournament football. Add to that a perfect penalty record for Man City and the ice in his veins becomes clear. As he explained to Catherine Mayer and Stephan Faris of TIME Magazine:
"It's just like a game of mind, me and the goalkeeper," says Balotelli of his perfect penalty record. "Me, I know how to control my mind." The secret lies in his distinctive stuttering run-up to the ball, so different from his usual fluidity. He waits for the goalkeeper to guess at the likely trajectory of his shot and in that fraction of a second aims into the opposite corner of the net. "When the goalkeeper moves before me, it means that in this game of mind he lost," he says.
Mario Balotelli is one of the biggest attacking threats in world football as he is completely fearless and strikes fear into the hearts and minds of his opponents. If he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next on and off the pitch, how can they?
The haircuts, the publicity stunts, the controversy are all just a smokescreen hiding one of the most natural-born winners in football, and one with the medals to prove it.
If Mancini wants to win the Premier League title again or compete for the Champions League next season, then he needs to build his team around the power and presence of Balotelli, because while his other strikers do the job against the rest, only Super Mario regularly does it against the best.