Time running out for Mario Balotelli to realise potential

Undisciplined. Rash. Unmanageable. Childish. Unpredictable... and incredibly talented.

That's Mario Balotelli for you — the Italian striker who has 'Super Mario' stitched onto his boots — the one who drives a camouflaged Bentley around Manchester and was rumoured to be donating money dressed as Santa Claus on Christmas.

Mario Balotelli is like a jigsaw puzzle. The really tough ones where just when you think you've got it right, you realise that you've put in the wrong piece in the wrong place.

So, despite Roberto Mancini prophesying his love for the 22-year-old's talent time and again, he finally lost patience. Mario has sealed a move to AC Milan, who he has supported since a long time — in a deal which could be his last high-profile move if he fails to change his ways.

Age is on his side, but it seems his brain isn't. He has everything in life — football, money, fast cars, villas and women. So what's his problem?

Reuters

Mario Balotelli — the unsolved riddle. Reuters

In a way, this is the perfect transfer — moving from a bench-warming role to a team which needs a top striker, a team which he loves in a nation where he has been brought up. All these reasons give him no excuse to spurn this chance.

His ways scarcely changed when he came to City. A flustered Jose Mourinho was happy to let him go from Inter Milan and Mancini's iron-hand melted every time Balotelli made a mistake. Take for example their recent training ground bust-up, after which Mancini said, "I will give him another 100 chances if I think it's possible he can change. I give him another chance, sure, because he is 22 and he can make a mistake."

Some may say he gave him one chance too many — but it's because the City manager (like many others) knows that talent is hidden behind an exterior peppered with controversies. And evidence of that talent was 28 goals in 86 matches for Inter and 30 goals in 80 matches for City.

His performance against Manchester United in the 6-1 derby win was stuff of legend. It had everything from immaculate finishing to the memorable 'Why Always Me' celebration. But compare this to what he did in the loss against United this season and it was no surprise that he was substituted in the 52nd minute.

Such is the risk attached to Balotelli. And you cannot calculate it. It's like a bet with really good odds, but with a minimum stake of £19 million (what AC Milan paid for him).

Talent-wise, Mario can easily become one of the best strikers in Europe. This is the player who got a telling touch for Sergio Aguero to score a last-gasp goal against QPR last season and win Manchester City the EPL. He's the same player who scored a stunning goal at Euro 2012 before celebrating by flexing his muscles — with a face that had no discernible expression.

But his bursts of form on pitch are filled with instances of setting his own house on fire, of trying a back-heel to score when he could have side-footed it and of losing his cool in games that matter. When you're leading a top team's attack, these things get noticed more than how many passes you made or shots you took. And Balotelli needs to understand this.

It's as if he doesn't realise his hidden potential — and how he keeps throwing it out of the window with his ridiculous antics. He keeps telling Noel Gallagher in an interview that he wants to be the best. But the way he has gone about trying to be the best has set him farther away from that goal than closer.

The move to AC Milan will make or break his career. One can get carried away with failure or success in the EPL, and Mario has had both. Now it's time to use these experiences in a much less physical league — in a league he has played in before and a club which has no qualms in keeping their stars on the bench, or, if they like you, keep you fit till you're 40.

At just 22, Balotelli is lucky to have already played a senior international tournament and 166 professional club matches. He has the ability to play many more.

But as beautiful a game it may be, football can also be cruel.

Mancini rightly put it, "he was very important for you journalists." Yes, we love covering him and we just hope he keeps playing at the top level for a long time. The colourful events are fine if you keep performing on the pitch too.

But as of now, time is slowly, but steadily, running out for Mario Balotelli. Will he go boom or will he go bust?

Tick, tock, tick, tock...

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