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Mario Balotelli at a crossroads with injury setback
Three years ago to the week, Mario Balotelli donned the cover of Time Magazine. After bursting onto the European football scene at Euro 2012, Balotelli had been setting alight the Premier League, and his house, at Manchester City. Time joined Sports Illustrated as magazines that attempted to get inside Balotelli’s unique psyche; their headline was “The Meaning of Mario.”
Yet the drive behind his sporadic burst of form and madcap moments was elusive. Over time, the Meaning of Mario slowly changed as his form took a turn for the worse and his misdemeanors were no longer tolerated so generously. His disappointing season-long stint at Liverpool last proved that he doesn’t even know where that spark is himself.
When Mario Balotelli joined AC Milan on a loan move over the summer, many eyebrows were raised. But it seems that he left bad Mario, the player who became more and more reclusive in his final days at Liverpool, at Anfield.
Although it has been difficult to judge his performance at Milan so far given his lack of playing time — he hasn’t played since September 27th and suffered another injury set back yesterday, ruling him out until Christmas — his attitude off-the-pitch has seemingly undergone significant change.
He has behaved respectfully on the bench and in training, including during his frustrating recovery period. Before his final outing before his injury, Milan CEO Adriano Galliani offered his appreciation, saying, per Goal.com: “He has behaved wonderfully. He has been flawless, both on the pitch and off it. It’s true that a month is not enough time to make a full appraisal but, so far, Balotelli has been super in every regard.”
In his 228 minutes of playing time, he has also performed impeccably in his two substitute appearances for Milan and a pair of starts.
Balotelli was thrown on against Internazionale as a substitute for his debut appearance in early September and instantly changed the game with his dynamism. He had two vicious long-distance drives, one of which hit the post, from only twenty-two touches.
Although he drew four fouls, the most notable of which was Felipe Melo’s clear attempt to wind the twenty-five-year-old late on, Balo remained calm and collected.
His work effort in twenty-minutes against Palermo and ninety verses Genoa was outstanding and an incredible free-kick goal in Udinese highlighted a man of the match performance.
He appears to be a changed man, though time is now against him. Balotelli hasn’t appeared for Italy since World Cup 2014, and it will be an uphill battle — as Steven Gerrard said at Liverpool: “A losing one” — for him to earn a starting position with the Rossoneri in 2016. His career has always been defined by certain moments (his performance against Germany in Euro 2012 and his training bib disaster with Manchester City) and his next one is perhaps the most important of his career.
Photo credit: By danheap77 (IMG_0091), via Wikimedia Commons