Balotelli: A final word

Richard Heathcote

And so it ends. For a player for ever now associated with 'Why Always Me?' and grabbing centre stage it was a remarkably low key exit; more akin to sneaking quietly out of the back door rather than the crashing head first through the main entrance.

As a player, well it is almost secondary to the persona; the caricature that Balotelli ultimately became and perhaps always would be and history may well (sadly) reduce his deeds with the ball at his feet as a mere footnote in his City career.

Balotelli arrived to great fanfare in the summer of 2010. His Inter career had stalled to a halt; promise under Roberto Mancini gave way to a mutual distrust under Jose Mourinho to the extent where The Special One dubbed him as being 'impossible to manage'.

The overriding frustration of course is that his City career frankly never got going. Rarely (if ever?) did Balotelli get a consistent run in the side and his minutes per game numbers in comparison to the other strikers was telling, even with Tevez exiled for the most part in 2011/12:

Mc_strikers_medium

Much of this was his own doing and a predilection for acquiring suspensions punctuated his time in blue. Yet as much as he was the architect of his own undoing, rarely (perhaps correctly) did Mancini truly trust him and it is telling that he made only 33 of his 54 Premier League appearances from the start. Equally so is the statistic that Balotelli averaged just 55 minutes per game during his 79 appearances. Hardly the type of number that a player with designs to be a first choice striker should have and shuddertothink made a strong argument for the fact that Balotelli simply never have made it past being a number three striker at City.

I have the sense that Balotelli may never have been the best fit for Mancini's system and style and when Mancini did favour a tall, presence in attack the selection was mainly Edin Dzeko, not Balotelli, and this was a role that he could have thrived in. The young Italian was then left in a supporting role on the left hand side - hardly utilising the best of his talents.

There were glimpses of his undoubted talent; The mature performance in the 2011 FA Cup final and the destroying force in the win at Old Trafford last season, but these were all too brief flashes. On the flip side of this were let downs: the red card in the early stages against Dinamo Kiev and most notably being sent off at The Emirates in a game that looked to have cost City their chance of the title.

We all know of the headlines that Balotelli generated and the stories that appeared in the press at one time were an almost daily occurrence. Heck, there are even 217 stories here on SBNation. We also know that the majority were simply untrue, or at best embellishments of a far less salacious story. These shouldn't gloss over the fact though that there were very real concerns and this article by Ian Herbert in The Independent is testament to the growing dissatisfaction with Balotelli that developed inside the club.

Balotelli has a big opportunity at Milan though. He joins the club he supported as a boy at a stage where although still in the Champions League (a daunting tie against Barcelona awaits) and in the top six in Serie A are in somewhat of a transition. This though will allow Balotelli to take a pivotal role in the side, something he has yet to be afforded in his career, and the hope would be that he thrives with this responsibility; that the move has arrived at a point in his career, indeed his life, where he is ready to seize it.

Wishful thinking perhaps and while you would hesitate to suggest he is fast running out of chances, if his time at Milan ends in a similar fashion to how it did at Inter and latterly at City talk of him being considered amongst the worlds elite will surely be over.

Here is a player not yet 23 years old of course but if he were to be provided with a salutary tale then he should be reminded of another player who travelled the same route out of Manchester: Robinho. Here was a huge talent who has been filed under the heading 'what could have been'.

If Balotelli suffers the same fate it would be an even bigger shame.

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