This summer, Arsenal’s focus in the transfer market is undoubtedly on securing a world-class striker. The club have already confounded pundits by turning up their nose at a deal to bring back Cesc Fabregas, such is their determination to plough their resources into securing the frontman they need.
Mario Balotelli is, in talent terms, undoubtedly world class. Now his high-profile agent Mino Raiola has revealed to SkySports (h/t Jamie Sanderson of The Metro) that it's "possible" that Balotelli could move to Arsenal. It’s certainly nothing concrete, and Raiola’s words are often best taken with a pinch of salt.
It’d be easy to dismiss the story as nonsense. At first glance, Balotelli does not appear to be the sort of character Wenger likes to sign. The Frenchman is renowned for the depth of research he puts into each transfer deal, watching players in training and gathering personality reports to ensure they will not be a disruptive influence in his squad.
Balotelli seems to cause disruption wherever he goes, setting off both literal and metaphorical fireworks along the way. He was booted out of Inter Milan before being ejected from Manchester City. Now, it seems AC Milan are prepared to let him leave.
However, selling Balotelli is never an easy decision: His problematic personality is evened out by the allure of his outrageous gifts. Few strikers in world football possess his intoxicating combination of attributes: Raw power, awe-inspiring technique, expansive imagination, and truly remarkable composure. One manager after another has attempted to tame Balotelli. Ultimately, most have failed.
As he approaches the twilight of his career, one wonders if Arsene Wenger can find the motivation to face such a challenge. However, the signs are that he could be prepared to take a gamble on Balotelli’s potential. Let’s not forget, this is the manager who signed Robin van Persie when he was a troublesome youth at Feyenoord, and turned him in to one of the world’s best strikers.
The biggest clue that Wenger might genuinely consider a move for Balotelli lies in last summer’s bid for Luis Suarez. Like Balotelli, Suarez is an abrasive, difficult personality. Like Balotelli, he is also a unique talent. If Wenger felt he could face the prospect of dealing with Suarez, it doesn’t require a great leap of the imagination to see him toying with the prospect of recruiting Italy’s No. 9.
In Italy’s opening World Cup game against England, we saw just what Balotelli is capable of against Premier League defenders. There was the emphatic header which proved to be the winner, but there was also a wonderful chipped effort that had to be cleared off the line by Phil Jagielka. Power and imagination. Those are the cornerstones of Balotelli’s game.
The truth is that there are not that many world-class strikers available this summer. A player with the perfect type of talent and personality may not be out there. In that instance, Wenger may have to forego some of his psychological requirements and game on sheer ability. If he can control Balotelli, he’ll be onto a winner.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and is reporting from his World Cup base in Brazil.
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