Mario Balotelli’s colourful and controversial career has seemingly taken a new twist with his reported sacking by Brescia, the forward’s home-town club opting to terminate the contract of the star after he failed to turn up for training amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest incident is another chapter in a career which seems destined never to reach its true potential, Balotelli once tipped to flourish into one of the world’s finest players when bursting onto the scene at Inter Milan.
Since then the striker has mixed highs and lows during a nomadic career, taking in spells at several of Europe’s leading sides without ever delivering on a consistent basis. Regardless of your opinion on the maverick Italian, his career can certainly not be classed as boring.
Here are our ratings of Mario Balotelli’s impact at each of the nine clubs he’s played for:
Balotelli’s football origins began in the humble surroundings of Lumezzane in Northern Italy, where his evident talents saw him make his debut as a 15-year-old in the third tier of Italian football.
The forward made just two first-team appearances for the club before attracting the interest of leading sides, however, going on trial at Spanish giants Barcelona before being signed by Inter Milan in 2006.
— Martin Backhouse (@MartinBackhouse) May 18, 2013
The teenage sensation wasted little time in making an impression at Inter Milan and was handed his Serie A debut at just 17-years-old, before scoring twice in a Coppa Italia victory over Reggina just days later.
His meteoric rise continued with a memorable cup brace against rivals Juventus, whilst he finished the season with seven goals in all competitions as Inter were crowned as champions of Italy.
Despite being subjected to sickening racism a teenage Balotelli continued to perform and produce moments of brilliance at the San Siro, though the arrival of Jose Mourinho led to a series of conflicts and misdemeanours, despite the Portuguese taking a liking to the mischievous but ‘unmanageable’ Mario.
Amongst his indiscretions included confrontations with teammates, throwing his shirt to the ground after being booed and inexplicably wearing an AC Milan shirt on national television, though he enjoyed much on-field success with three league titles and a treble-winning season, eventually departing for Manchester City having scored 20 goals in 59 league appearances.
Balotelli’s fall-out with Mourinho saw big-spending Manchester City secure the services of the forward, the Italian reuniting with Roberto Mancini – who had handed the youngster his debut at Inter – in the Premier League.
Mancini was more than aware of the potential in the enigmatic forward and he began brightly despite injury problems, scoring on his debut in the Europa League and registering his first top-flight goals with a brace against West Brom at The Hawthorns – a fixture which also saw him later sent off.
Recognised with the Golden Boy award as Europe’s most promising talent in 2010, Balotelli finished his debut season in England with ten goals in all competitions and was named as Man of the Match as City ended a 35-year wait for silverware with FA Cup success.
The following season saw the forward improve once more and enjoy the best goalscoring season of his career to help the club to the Premier League title, including the iconic ‘Why always me?’ t-shirt celebration after scoring twice in the Manchester derby.
Balotelli’s odd and often unexplainable antics led to him becoming somewhat of a distraction to the club’s hopes of progress, however, a series of incidents including throwing darts at youth team players, training ground bust-ups and an infamous bathroom firework display.
Mario’s Manchester adventure brought plenty of highs, but City soon decided they needed to cut ties with the problematic poacher.
AC Milan was Balotelli’s port of call after being squeezed out at the Etihad, the Rossoneri offering the boyhood fan an opportunity to adorn the club’s famous colours.
The move proved an inspired one for both parties as Balotelli began brilliantly at the San Siro, enjoying the best form of his career to score 12 times in his first 13 league appearances and fire the club to Champions League qualification.
Such was the quality of his impact, he was named in the divisional Team of the Year despite only arriving at Milan during the January transfer window.
His fine form continued the following year with 18 goals in all competitions, but his second stint in Italy was once again marred by racial abuse, the disgusting taunts notably leaving the forward in tears following his substitution during a clash against Napoli.
The Italian international would later leave for a second attempt at the Premier League, returning for an unsuccessful loan spell during the 2015/16 season.
Luis Suarez’s defection to Barcelona left Brendan Rodgers searching for a reliable source of goals, his striker search ending with a calculated gamble on Balotelli.
The forward’s reputation as an off-field distraction was well-documented but following his renaissance in Milan, Rodgers thought he had a potential bargain on his hands at a relatively modest fee of just £14m.
Oh, how he was wrong.
Now we’re all aware that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but to think that Rodgers once thought that an attacking triumvirate of Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini was of sufficient quality to replace Suarez is pretty difficult to comprehend.
Balotelli seemed ill-suited to both Liverpool’s style and philosophy from the get-go, his languid style in stark contrast to the effervescent displays of the departed fan favourite. He scored just one league goal during a hugely disappointing single season on Merseyside, the forward later describing his move to Anfield as ‘the worst decision’ of his life.
Unwanted at either Liverpool or Milan following a disappointing loan return to the latter, Balotelli’s options were limited despite being offered the chance to leave the Premier League on a free transfer.
French side Nice – a team never afraid to gamble on talented but troubled stars – offered the Italian a chance, one he would grasp with both hands following a productive spell in Ligue 1.
Balotelli scored twice on his debut in a victory over Marseille, before adding a second double in the following fixture to become the first player in a quarter of a century to score four goals in their first two Ligue 1 appearances.
Reinvigorated as the focal point of an exciting side, Balotelli finished his debut season with 17 goals in all competitions before enjoying the best haul of his career the following year. His 26-goal season saw him recalled to the Italian national side for the first time in four years.
After two-and-a-half seasons, however, Balotelli terminated his contract to join divisional rivals Marseille, leaving Nice with an impressive goalscoring record of 43 goals in just 76 appearances.
Balotelli’s nomadic existence saw Marseille take a chance on the forward following his exploits in French football, though despite an impressive goalscoring record it would prove to be a brief spell.
He scored eight goals in just 15 league appearances for the club but their failure to secure Champions League football meant cuts had to be made, Balotelli departing despite Marseille’s desire to keep him at the club.
It proved a sorry end to what had been a productive spell in France’s top tier, but a return to Italy was once again calling.
The latest stop on the Balotelli journey has seen the forward spend less than a year with home-town club Brescia, the striker set to depart despite signing a multi-year contract upon his arrival last summer.
Brescia’s promotion saw the club sign the Italian international as a marquee arrival to boost their survival hopes, though a season of struggle leaves the club some way adrift from safety in Italy’s top tier.
Balotelli has scored just five league goals but his return to Serie A has once again seen him a target for racist abuse, the star kicking the ball into the crowd after being subject to taunts against Hellas Verona and also suffering sickening abuse from Lazio supporters.
Now 29-years-old and set to be a free agent once more, it remains to be seen what the future holds for one of the most notorious characters in the modern game.