5 Ways Mario Balotelli Can Build on a Monster 2013 for AC Milan
Impressive as he was, you get the feeling the second half of the 2012-13 season was just a hint of what's to come, an appetizer before Balo really takes up the mantle as Milan's main man for the coming years.
Here are five ways he can become even more valuable to Milan.
Stay out of Trouble
It's the obvious one for Mario. There's no doubting his footballing intelligence, but off the ball he can be a little less than clever.
Part of Balotelli's charm is that he's idiosyncratic. There isn't another player in the world quite like him, and no one would change that. The famous £1,000 donation to a homeless man in Manchester, visiting a women's prison to have a look around, crashing an Inter press conference, even setting fire to his house with fireworks—it's all good.
That being said, there's a certain immaturity in Balotelli's character that's holding him back as a player. Foolish sendings-off, breaking club curfews, violent outbursts; it all has to stop if Mario is to become the world-class striker he has the potential to be.
Seven yellow cards in 12 Serie A games for Milan last term tell their own tale. Max Allegri will need him to be more cautious in the future.
Become More Clinical
The immaturity can show itself in front of the goal, too. Balotelli is a lethal finisher, but he often takes on the impossible.
Last season, Mario took almost six shots per game—a lot more than other leading strikers in the league. Edinson Cavani took 4.6 a game while Antonio Di Natale averaged a more modest 4, while Balo's teammate Stephan El Shaarawy took just 2.8 (stats from whoscored.com).
Considering several of his goals also came from the penalty spot, it becomes clear that Mario could certainly benefit from adopting a quality over quantity philosophy.
Guard Against Complacency
2012-13 was a season of two halves for the mercurial Mario. His immediate success in Milan quickly erased the memories of what was a torrid time in Manchester before Christmas, but it shouldn't be forgotten that he'd only managed one goal in 14 games for the Citizens before being transferred.
Perhaps after winning the league title with Mancini's side, a little bit of complacency set in. It might have been homesickness, or the lure of new pastures. Only Balotelli knows for sure. But whatever it was, it had a drastic effect on his game.
A lot of Balotelli's strengths and weaknesses are closely tied to his personality. He's a confidence player, so when he's low, he's very low. Max Allegri will be hoping that the blues don't get to Mario next season, because they'll need him firing on all cylinders.
Get Stephan El Shaarawy in on the Ac
The only downside to Mario's winter move to the Rossoneri was the effect it seemed to have on Stephan El Shaarawy's game.
The explosive El Shaarawy was a revelation before the break, almost single-handedly lifting Allegri's side out of the doldrums.
The Pharaoh netted just once after his friend and international teammate arrived, and having scored 15 before that, his drought in front of goal worried many.
Allegri didn't seem to be able to get both players scoring together, even though the pair have a close relationship and are both extremely talented. If Milan is going to challenge for honours this time around, however, the San Siro outfit will need both to contribute regularly.
Don't Stop Being Balo
Who could forget the mix of anger and disbelief on Roberto Mancini's face during a friendly game between City and the Los Angeles Galaxy after watching Mario pirouette and then back-heel wide when he'd been through on goal?
It was unprofessional and a little disrespectful, but it was also what makes him Mario. He's entertaining, infuriating, light-hearted, sometimes hot-headed, skillful and a little bit silly.
And we love him for it.
Fans will forgive the odd tragicomic failure in front of the goal, because they know that he's trying to spark the imagination with a bit of magic. It's a lovable characteristic, one I hope he never loses.