The Italian international played a part in more than one Scudetto success, and as a member of Jose Mourinho's treble-winning side, will forever be remembered as a part of a very special squad.
The fact remains, however, that he was let go to Manchester City for a reason and though it would have been tempting to entice him back to Inter after it became clear he was unhappy in England, Massimo Moratti was wise to let rivals AC Milan have the young star.
Back in 2010, Balotelli came under a lot of criticism from Inter fans for appearing on the Italian TV show Striscia la Notizia—"Strip the News"—wearing the jersey of cross-town rivals AC Milan.
It was, in their eyes, insulting to see their striker wearing the colours of their rivals. But Mario has never made any excuses for being a Rossonero. In fact, it was even a source of much humour in the dressing room during his time at the Nerazzurri.
Speaking about Mario's love for all things Milan, former teammate Marco Materazzi said:
My friend Mario has always been a Milanista, so it’s no surprise he is there now. Milan was his dream. Do you know how many times I had to chop up his Rossoneri socks in the locker room? His Mum bought them for him and he would wear them in training, so I’d sneakily cut holes in. He laughed like crazy.
These days, few players are lucky enough to play for the club they grew up supporting, and it's doubtful that prior to joining Inter all of the squad were Interisti. But with Mario's affiliations being so well-known, it would have caused friction sooner or later.
After his sensational move to Milan, Balotelli left Roberto Mancini with a problem. The Manchester City manager had nothing left to talk about with journalists.
At a press conference following the move, Balo's long-time mentor from his days at Inter said as much to the gathered reporters. It was said in a lighthearted way, but there was a deeper truth behind it. Balotelli comes with baggage.
Dips in form, bizarre stunts and the occasional bust-up with a manager still aren't enough to eclipse the young forward's immense talent, but he's anything but a straight-forward player. And as Andrea Stramaccioni tries to build for the future, the young coach could probably do without Balotelli's disruptions.
"I'm leaving," Antonio Cassano told reporters in 2011 when he was considering international retirement. "But don't worry, you'll still have a lot to write because there's still Balotelli."
The former Bari, Roma, Real Madrid, Sampdoria and Milan man hit the nail on the head. The pair are similar in many ways. Both precociously talented and lovable but both unpredictable and occasionally troublesome.
Taking a chance on Cassano or Balotelli is one thing, but trying to control them both would be a full-time job and might still end in disaster. Seeing the pair torment defences together on a weekly basis would be a joy, but perhaps not worth the stress for Strama who'd likely spend his days wondering when it was all going to boil over.
Balotelli cost AC Milan €20 million in transfer fees and will earn another €5 million a year for the next four years. There's no getting around it—it's a lot of cash.
Inter controversially drove Wesley Sneijder from the club by trying to convince the Dutchman to reduce his wages, so introducing a fresh burden on the club's coffers would make little sense right now. FIFA's Financial Fair Play rules seem to have club bosses spooked, so unless there was a long-term plan in plan to make sure such numbers were affordable, it would be an unwise move financially.
The young Croatian forward Marko Livaja is currently on loan at Atalanta but will surely be back in Milan before too long.
Just 19, he scored four goals in six matches for the Nerazzurri during the Europa League group stages and has been impressive since moving to Bergamo. A brace against AS Roma got a lot of people talking, as it hinted at the great talent in Livaja's possession.
And the teenager from Split is not alone. Inter are the current champions in Italy's youth championship and won the new European NextGen Series as well. There's plenty of talent coming through the ranks these days, and though Mario Balotelli would be some act to outshine, the evidence points to some very exciting break-outs in the next few seasons.
Samuele Longo, currently on loan in Spain at RCD Espanyol, is one such player who might be up front for Inter before too long, perhaps alongside Livaja. The Italian was integral to both the youth league and NextGen titles and was voted the player of the play-offs. Assuming his sojourn in Spain goes well, he'll be one to watch.