CNN’s Pedro Pinto stands with his arms folded and asks a question that every manager dreads to be asked “What was the most problematic player you ever had to deal with?”
Jose Mourinho doesn’t see the seriousness of the question, nor does he really care for it. He gives a weary the smile “The most problematic? They are funny!” After Pinto suggests Balotelli, Mourinho breaks out into a full smile. “I could write a book on Mario. But the book would not be a drama, the book would be a comedy!”
Mourinho then goes on to recall a story about a game against Rubin Kazan whilst he was at Inter, Balotelli had picked up a yellow in the first half and there were no strikers on the bench left to replace him. He allegedly used 14 of the allocated 15 minutes of half-time talking to Mario how he should not be reactive or even chase the ball out of possession. Despite Mourinho’s pleas, Balotelli picked up a second yellow in the 60th minute and was sent off.
It’s a story that has grown in ‘funny football stories’ as the years have gone on. Mourinho clearly sees the funny side of Mario Balotelli, but this interview was conducted in 2012. Would he still find the tale of the infamous Mario Balotelli so funny? Probably not.
After a dismal two years contracted to Liverpool, one of which he spent in Milan, Mario Balotelli joined Nice last week on a free transfer. The freshly turned 26 year old is yet another name that is currently being engraved into the tomb of ‘wasted talent’. This is not a knock on Nice, who finished two points outside the Champions League places in Ligue 1 last year. But if you tried to tell someone in 2010 that Balotelli would be playing for Nice in 2016, that person may just slap you right in the face.
But let’s take it back to those early Mario days.
In Mancini’s last season (2007/08), the young Balotelli had only a handful of appearances throughout the season, but his talent was evident. With the 18 year old scoring two away goals against Juventus in the Coppa Italia.
It’s funny to see Mourinho reminisce about his time with Mario. Because at the time, it seemed anything but funny. Their relationship became strained before it even started with Mourinho arriving before the start of Mario’s second professional season. ‘Funny’ stories from their time together include the Italian striker being excluded from all squads during January 2009, with Mourinho lambasting his lack of effort.
Also an altercation with Mourinho meant he was left out of Inter’s Champions League second leg tie against Chelsea in 2010. The normally reserved and non-confrontational Zanetti came out and criticised Balotelli, something the Argentine has always seemingly avoided, even with inexperienced players. One of Balotelli’s last acts as an Inter player was turning up on Striscia la notizia in an AC Milan jersey. Which naturally, did not sit well.
But this article is not a recount of Balotelli’s misdemeanours and ‘learning’ experiences. His move to Manchester City in the summer of 2010 represented a fresh start for Balotelli. You can view all of his misdemeanours here.
His talent is obvious to those even new to the beautiful game. And that’s why so many people refuse to give up on Balotelli.
It’s why Javier Zanetti, whose personality would much prefer a quiet sit down with a young player to try and calm them down, had to come out and criticise him. It’s why Jose Mourinho, one of the best managers for man management and controlling egos, struggled to control him. It’s a wonder no one has ever slapped him in the face and screamed ‘get it together;.
It’s almost as if Balotelli shook hands with the Devil when he was a young boy. He would be given the precious talent of being able to play football, but in exchange he would be given the personality of a four year throwing a tantrum.
Balotelli’s career isn’t over yet. But his move to Nice finally indicates that the top clubs around Europe simply don’t find the ever disappearing promise of his talent enticing enough anymore. They want talent and the maturity expected from a 26 year old.
For as long as football has been about. Players have wasted their talent, it’s the same as in any walk of life.
Some players never fulfill their potential because the bar was set too high, Freddy Adu. Some were ravaged by injuries, Joe Cole. Some never do for incredibly unfortunate reasons, Gianluigi Letini.
Some never fulfill their potential because they never took the game seriously, Mario Balotelli?
I would find it absolutely astonishing if he had never been told the tale of the Brazilian Adriano. He even played with Robinho at Milan, who arguably did not fulfill his potential. Of course it is not just the superstars he would have been warned about. There would have been thousands of kids Balotelli was picked over as a youth player, because he was deemed more talented. But what if those kids had been harder working, and could have surpassed Balotelli?
The impotency of the tales of wasted talent are rather sad. To fans of football like you and I, Balotelli is living our dream. Yet he is unable to see just how fortunate he is.
That’s why these examples are impotent to these types of players. If a player is oblivious enough to their career status turning from ‘promising talent’ to ‘unfulfilled potential’, then they’re probably not going to be hit with the life changing realisation that their talent is in fact being wasted. As a manager, a director, even a fellow teammate, I can’t imagine how frustrating it is.
Talent is a very precious thing. Ninety percent of players in a Premier League academy (yeah I see you smirking) fail to turn pro. The average Serie A team uses 22-26 players in a season. There are probably sixteen regulars per team at best. That’s 320 players. That’s 0.00000432432% of the world population.
Okay, you get the point. Talent in any walk of life is a valuable thing. Talent in world football? That’s rare. That’s unique.
That’s why teams have persisted with Mario Balotelli. Striking talent of his calibre is rare, and goals are the most precious commodity in football. After a disappointing first half to the season with Manchester City, 3 goals in 20 games. Balotelli moved to Milan, scoring 12 goals in 13 games as he dragged Milan to third.
Even when Balotelli seems down and out, teams kept taking chances on him. Because people in football refuse to give up on talent. His scoring post-Inter has been volatile, for every 2011/12 season there’s been a 2014/15 season. Combine that with his volatile personality and the alleged stories are consistently alienating teammates, and you’ve got someone you don’t want to take a chance on anymore.
Perhaps this article was premature and Balotelli resurrects his career while at Nice, Hatem Ben Arfa did the exact same last season. But if history is anything to go by, he may see his career fade further and further away from where it was meant to be. Is that book still a comedy, Jose?
And in twenty years, Balotelli may be nothing more than an impotent tale of wasted talent, as another 20 year old refuses to see this gift he’s been given by life.
And oh, who could forget this?