Luca Ferrato

Just 19 years old, Mario Balotelli is probably the most promising youngster in Italian football at the moment. A centre-forward, fantastically skilful with a strong physique and great goal scoring ability, his future is surely very bright indeed.

Balotelli was born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents, but was adopted by an Italian family as a baby. He grew up as a typical Italian male, developing an enormous passion for football, a game he was clearly talented at.

After a brief spell in Serie C with Lumezzane, Balotelli's talents were spotted by Internazionale in 2006 and, following some time with the youngsters, he was soon promoted to the first team.

On 16th December 2007, Balotelli made his Serie A debut at Cagliari as Inter won 2-0. Three days later the young striker notched his first goals for the Nerazzurri against Reggina in the Italian Cup. More goals were to come and on 6th April, Balotelli scored in Bergamo against Atalanta, his first Serie A goal. In all his appearances the young striker had impressed the whole of Italy. Fans, journalists and coaches raved over his talent and soon he was a regular in the Italian Under-21 team.

As Balotelli was becoming famous for his behaviour on the pitch he was also getting noticed for his behaviour off it too. Increasingly undisciplined and seemingly restless at Inter, Balotelli has received just as many bad headlines as good.

At the end of the 2007/08 season, the striker picked up his first Scudetto under Roberto Mancini, however in the summer of 2008 Portuguese boss Jose Mourinho landed at the San Siro and Balotelli's prospects deteriorated quickly.

Mourinho and Balotelli have never been able to see eye to eye, but it remains true that the young striker has continued to contribute to the team: The 19-year-old has often come on from the bench and bagged decisive goals.

It has been felt by some in the domestic game that Balotelli has been disrespectful not just to his team-mates and coach, but also to opponents, quickly attracting the hatred of many Italian fans. Due to his Ghanaian roots the forward has suffered at the hands of opposition fans, especially those from Juventus who have racially abused the striker, whistling him and chanting “jump if you want Balotelli to die”.

Inter's fans, for their part, have supported their young striker at every turn. The Nerazzurri faithful donned black masks in Turin as Inter met Juventus that said “We are all Balotellis.”

In the meantime Mourinho has continued to be dissatisfied with his star and stated he found the striker immature and unprofessional.

Last October, during a match in Kazan against Russian champions Rubin in a Champions League tie, Balotelli was sent off at the start of the second half, leaving his side with ten men for the rest of the game. While Inter escaped Russia with a precious 1-1 draw, the real story of the match was that Mourinho was furious with the striker, and from that moment their relationship began to fall apart.

The return match against the Russians in December was crucial for Inter to reach the knockout stages of the competition, and if the first meeting had shown the worst of Balotelli then the re-match showcased the best, as the striker scored a wonderful free-kick, helping Inter into the last 16.

While the 19-year-old's club season was up and down his international prospects fared no better. Following a somewhat meaningless friendly in February, Italy coach Marcello Lippi was urged by domestic journalists to make space for Balotelli, but Lippi has held firm, preferring to focus on the ageing stars that lifted the World Cup in Berlin four years ago.

At the beginning of March, Balotelli made another off pitch blunder. The striker has never made any secret of the fact that in his childhood he was an AC Milan fan, and before the Champions League second leg match with Chelsea, allegedly arrived at Inter's training camp with the Milan anthem blaring out of his car radio. He went on to joke in the dressing room with team-mates, saying Milan could perhaps catch Inter in Serie A in the coming weeks. Needless to say Inter's players did not appreciate Balotelli's jokes and Jose Mourinho chose to exclude the striker from the game at Stamford Bridge.

Another slip happened in the middle of March. The Fininvest satirical programme “Striscia la notiza” approached Balotelli in a bar near Milan and handed over an AC Milan shirt, with the striker's name on the back. The bar erupted with laughs, but unexpectedly Balotelli accepted the gift, and after the “Striscia la notiza” comedian had left the bar was caught with a hidden camera wearing the shirt, with apparent pride and laughing with his friends.

Inter's board were understandably furious and Mourinho decided to exclude Balotelli for the Serie A clash with Livorno and also for the crucial meeting with Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. The striker has since said sorry, hoping to build bridges with his employers. “I apologise for the situation that has been created in recent times” said the striker, going on to say all he wanted was to return to the side.

Italian prime minister and Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi was asked about Balotelli recently and laughed at the situation, saying the striker is very funny, and perhaps more tellingly, has the face of a “true Milanista”.

Balotelli's career currently resembles a soap opera, and it's not an impossibility that he will be training at Milanello next season. Perhaps there he would be happier.


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