Pirlo’s ball fell to the left wing against the run of play. Cassano was pressured by Hummels in the German defense but was able to get around him. His ball into the middle was a good one and deserved the finish it received from the head of Mario Ballotelli. Not too long after Italy was on the attack again. Ricardo Montilivo delivered a dangerous ball from the midfield that caught German defender Phillip Lahm off guard. The ball once again fell to Mario Balotelli who calmly received it and struck into the top corner of the goal. For many it was the best goal of the entire tournament and for others it seemed like the coming out party for a controversial figure in world football.
A few months later Balotelli was walking down the tunnel to the Manchester City dressing room, frustrated at being substituted early in 3-0 victory over Sunderland. It was another disappointing performance in a campaign that has been rather poor from Balotelli thus far. The player who, going into the final, many considered a possible Euro 2012 player of the tournament has yet to score in Premier League action. His only two strikes this campaign have come in the league cup, a competition from which Manchester City are eliminated, and a penalty in the Champions League.
In fact between this week and the past couple of months the mantra of the two faces of Mario Balotelli have never been more relevant. Early this week Mario was brought on as a substitute in a Champions League tie against Borussia Dortmund. While Manchester City have been able to dominate the Premier League as of late they have had particular problems with the Champions League. After dropping their Champions League opener against Real Madrid, City were trailing 1-0 in a match they desperately needed points in to advance. Given a penalty Mario stepped up to the spot and delivered with unbelievable composure to tie the match.
Yet just a couple of days later Balotelli had already gotten himself back into trouble with both his club and the media. Not only that but there was some question as to whether Mario would be called up for his country for the latest set of World Cup qualifiers. Cesare Prandelli, who could be credited with the revolutionary Mario who showed up for the Euros, may turn on Balotelli completely soon enough. A week after so many people praised Mario for his entertainment value and quality finish that may have saved City’s Champions League campaign the same people were critical of his poor professionalism.
This lack of professionalism has always been a problem with Balotelli. Mario has always had a shocking lack of self control on the field. One specific story that conveys this perfectly was told by Balotelli’s manager when he played with Inter Milan, Jose Mourinho. The special one reported that after Mario Balotelli had picked up a late first half yellow card he told Mario to play calmly to start the second half. The club did not have any other strikers available and needed him to stay in the game. Mario proceeded to go out and pick up a 46th minute yellow card to leave the game. Between fireworks inside his house, missed spinning back heals against MLS teams and randomly appearing at an Inter Milan press conference Mario’s career has been a whirlwind of poor professionalism.
Yet at the same time there is certainly a reason that Mario is still playing consistently with one of the best football clubs in the world. Besides his Euro 2012 performance, the best of his career, Balotelli demonstrated his quality impressively last campaign. One of the biggest results of the season was City’s 6-1 victory over United, a game in which Balotelli had 2 goals and instigated the red card issued to Johnny Evans. Later in the season Balotelli’s penalty in injury time insured a very important 3-2 victory for City against Tottenham. Yet Balotelli’s largest contribution of the season was during the final match of the season when he returned a Sergio Aguero pass which the Argentine converted to win the Premier League.
Those are the positive and the negatives faces of Balotelli. The question coming out of the media after this weekend is which one outweighs the other. Is Balotelli’s talent outweighed by his ridiculous antics? Yes, for City at least. Manchester City already have plenty of other problems in their dressing room and Balotelli may be the biggest, although Carlos Tevez makes a good case for himself in that regard. City have the kind of funds to bring in a player who has a similar skill set to Balotelli without the red-faced moments that he accompanies. That being said, Balotelli could be huge for another club with fewer problems.
Balotelli is one of the most entertaining footballers in the current football world. Yet he must mature if he is even going to realize his incredible potential as a footballer.
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