Farewell Mr Fireworks: Mario Balotelli departs
There was never a dull moment, on or off the field, with the maverick Manchester City player
WITH the transfer of maverick forward Mario Balotelli from Manchester City to AC Milan the Premier League has lost one of its genuine characters. The football press has been lining up to pass judgment on his brief career in England, and not all of it has been complimentary.
The Italian player arrived in Manchester from Inter Milan on his 20th birthday in August 2010, having been branded "unmanageable" by manager Jose Mourinho and with a reputation as a problem child. He quickly lived up to his billing and the stories of his off-field exploits turned him into a cult figure.
Among the highlights were setting fire to his house with fireworks, heading out to buy an ironing board for his mother and returning home with a quad-bike and a trampoline, driving into a women's prison to "have a look round" and stopping his car at a school because he needed the toilet.
He also flew to Italy and wandered into an Inter Milan press conference to shake hands with new manager Andrea Stramaccioni, started a craze for strange hairstyles by sporting what looked like a tea-cosy on his head, painted his car in camouflage colours and unveiled a T-shirt asking 'Why Always Me?' when he scored against Manchester United.
"Not many footballers could shoulder such outrageous tales. If someone told you that Michael Owen or Frank Lampard had burned down their bathrooms with fireworks, you wouldn't believe them. At least Mario made us wonder," remarked The Guardian.
On the pitch he helped City to win the FA Cup in 2011, their first major trophy for 35 years, and made headlines by swearing live on TV after the match.
The following season he was a key figure in City's path to a famous Premier League championship. It was his pass in the dying seconds of the crunch game against QPR that set up Sergio Aguero for an incredible title-winning goal.
But this season he has been a peripheral figure for City and the final straw may have been a training ground fracas involving his manager Roberto Mancini.
Balotelli's exploits led to comparisons with another Manchester-based eccentric, Eric Cantona. But there are important differences between the two, says Paul Hayward in the Daily Telegraph. While both see football "as a theatre, a means of self-dramatisation . . . Cantona applied his considerable talent [but] Balotelli laid on a sideshow that disguised his waywardness," he argued.
"The English game has not lost a genius but an enigma, a master of surprises, who is not yet the master of his talent."
Not everyone will miss Balotelli and his weird ways.
"The cult of Balotelli raised amusement for a while, but for those who shared a dressing room with him, it ceased to be a laughing matter long ago," claims Oliver Kay in The Times. "There will be no tears shed for him among his team-mates at City."
And hours after his departure even his talent is being called into question. "In truth, the man who once claimed he was the second-best player in the world behind Barcelona's Lionel Messi is actually just one of many very good footballers with a lot of growing up to do. Which is why, unlike Messi, Balotelli is expendable," claims the BBC's Ben Dirs.