Mario Ballotelli returns to greatness

Mario Balotelli has had a surprising return to form in Serie A.

by Bryan Gilbert

Over the past few weeks Mario Balotelli, the effervescent Italian footballer, has returned to amazing form not seen in a few years. The brilliant Mario Balotelli that can only be matched by Zlatan Ibrahimovic seemed to disappear after he made his move to Liverpool a few years ago. Mario’s talent is unquestionable, however he is unique in the world of football with regards to both his story and his personality.

The son of two Ghanaian immigrants, Mario was born in Palermo, Sicily.  He was placed in foster care after his biological parents could no longer pay for his health care needs.  He was fostered by the Balotelli’s and adopted their surname. However his foster parents never officially adopted him, thus Mario had to wait until his 18th birthday to request Italian Citizenship.

After starting his career at Inter Milan, he transferred to Manchester City, and began to unlock his prodigious talent. Nicknamed Super Mario, there was never any doubt about the Italian’s goal scoring prowess. In the game in which he scored his first two Premier League goals, Mario also received a red card for violent conduct.  This type of behavior makes Mario so polarizing.  He has immense talent for the game, and he also makes really bad decisions on occasion.

Balotelli rose to prominence thanks to his 2 goal outburst in the versus a dominant German side in the 2012 Euros. His play during the tournament had many praising his ability and awaiting his future accomplishments. However, Balotelli’s own personality did not ease his transition into the game’s elite. While he had the talent of a Messi or a Ronaldo, Mario did not have the mental fortitude. His outbursts and at times spotty play caused angst among teammates, coaches, and fans.   

Critics used to call him immature, said he had a “me-first” attitude to the game, and perhaps that was true at one point, but Balotelli also loves playing the game.  This is what makes him so fascinating, a guy with other-world talent, but a more than human attitude.  That’s why when he struggled at Liverpool, people wrote him off saying that his poor attitude had finally caught up to him.  His fall from grace was a very sad sight. No one wants to see a player struggle as much as he did.  

Fortunately, for Balotelli’s every fall there has been a rise, and the current season has proved just that.  After joining OGC Nice this year, Mario has started 4 games and has already scored 5 goals.  OGC Nice has found themselves surprisingly at the top of the Ligue 1 standings, and that can be attributed partially in thanks to Mario, as they have won each of the four games he has played.  Just two weeks ago, Mario scored an amazing goal that put OGC Nice up 2-1 in the 86th minute.  Yet again, we saw the Mario of old scoring tremendous goals, and later making a spectacle with his actions.

He took off his jersey during his celebration earning an automatic yellow card, and then just a few minutes later he got a second yellow card and the subsequent red card for a coming together with another player.  However, afterwards, the red card was rescinded, and Balotelli was allowed to play in last Friday’s match against Lyon in which OGC Nice won 2-0. He drew a penalty in the game, but missed the penalty shot. This was the first game that he has played in so far in Ligue 1 that he hasn’t scored.  It surprised many when he was left off the Italian National Team’s roster this past week when they played World Cup Qualifiers against Spain and Macedonia because he has been in such fine form recently.  However, it is a near certainty that if he can keep up his current form, the world will see him terrorizing defenses for the Italian Team yet again.  It remains to be seen whether he can continue to score goals for Nice, put the awful few years he’s had behind him, and be the Super Mario the world previously adored. Either way, Balotelli figures to entertaining on and off the pitch.