“Why always me?” Mario Balotelli famously asked whilst at Manchester City, and the answer is as complex and difficult as the player himself. The first black player to appear for Italy in a major tournament, his background, public profile and on-field talent mean his every step is dissected in detail by countless media outlets across the globe.
As a result, so many column inches have been dedicated to analysing the perception of him as a troubled individual, a difficult-to-reach young man and as a high-profile representative of a multicultural Italy. Amongst such critique, it often appears the fact he is a hugely gifted 23-year-old striker with no fewer than nine major trophies to his name already.
Yet for all his skill and the contribution he makes to every team he has represented, the problems remain and his attitude was once again front-page news last week.
Following Milan’s 2-0 defeat to Roma, Balotelli was criticised for his 69-minute display in which he had just 31 touches and failed to record a single shot on goal (per WhoScored.com).
Once more the tempestuous star would make a bad situation worse, arriving in the post-match mixed zone and overhearing Sky Italia pundits Zvonimir Boban, Giancarlo Marocchi and Christian Panucci saying he was “not a top player.”
He would quickly retort on live television, hitting back at the trio as he snapped (h/t FootballItalia):
You don’t understand anything about football. Trust me, you really don’t. ...
You always talk about me. When Milan win Mario’s great, when Milan lose it’s all Mario’s fault. You expect me to score five goals a game. I don’t need your criticism, I make my own criticism.
It was this latest outburst which has led to calls for the Rossoneri to sell the player, with many declaring that the adverse effects of his antics were beginning to outweigh his contribution to the team. But has the time really come for Milan to cut their losses and move Balotelli on?
The answer is, simply put, much easier to answer than that infamous tee shirt he revealed during his time in the Premier League. To sell him now would undermine much of the work done by the club, the striker far too important to their project to deny themselves his undeniable talent at this stage.
Perhaps the first consideration is the poor state of Milan’s finances, with the possibility of signing a player good enough to replace Balotelli almost impossible. It is not a new issue, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic fully aware of the situation as far back as May 2012.
It was then that the Swedish striker told AftonBladet (per Goal.com): "Milan's problem is an economic one," adding that the club "do not have the money to buy five players, or those that we need.”
That statement would prove to be prophetic, with the striker—along with the excellent Thiago Silva—sold to Paris Saint-Germain less than two months later.
Since those sales, the Rossoneri have managed to retain their best players, a trend that should certainly continue with Balotelli, markedly the most talented member of Clarence Seedorf’s squad. The coach has built a steadily improving side around his leading striker, and is slowly reaping the benefits of that decision.
Since joining the club in January 2013, the former Inter man has made 52 appearances, netting an incredible 30 times, while weighing in with eight assists. This season alone he is, according to stats site WhoScored.com, Milan’s leader in terms of goals (14), assists (6), completed dribbles (55) and fouls suffered (98).
With Stephan El Shaarawy now recovered from injury, his blossoming partnership with his Italy team-mate can only improve a side which has already begun to climb the table over recent weeks. Yet it remains the contribution of “Super Mario” which will ultimately lead the Rossoneri back to the top, and the player himself is fully aware of how he splits public opinion.
Following that defeat to Roma, he declared on Twitter that he had divided Italy in two, claiming that almost everyone overseas is united with him.
Mamma mia divido l Italia in 2! Però! Mentre quasi tutto l Estero è unito con me! What a strange game:-)— Mario Balotelli (@FinallyMario) April 26, 2014
Polarising he may be, but the management of Milan should be unanimous in their decision to keep Mario Balotelli in those famous red and black stripes as long as possible.