DEBUTS: Mario Balotelli

Written by: Massimo Nuzzo (@MassimoCNuzzo)

Mario Balotelli is no stranger to being the subject of discussion. Controversy and uncertainty are two things that have followed the 28-year-old striker throughout his career, with attitude problems and inconsistency seemingly holding him back from reaching his full potential.

Despite that, Balotelli has shown resilience throughout his time as a professional. We often see Balotelli silence the critics who attempt to pounce on him at the drop of a hat, continuously proving he is one of world football’s best at finding the back of the net.

Super Mario now leads the front line at Marseille, where he’s gotten off to a red hot start in the South of France. Before lighting it up in Ligue 1 and posting his goal celebrations to Instagram Live, though, he was developing his game at AC Lumezzane. Climbing up through the northern Italian club’s rankings, he appeared for the senior team twice in Serie C before looking for a better opportunity.

After failing to impress at a trial for Barcelona, Balotelli joined a star-studded Inter side along the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Patrick Vieira, and Javier Zanetti.

Initially, Balotelli’s move to Inter was that of a loan deal in 2006. The deal saw the Nerazzurri co-own him with Lumezzane,  a deal they then took full ownership of and made permanent in June 2007. Upon arrival, Balotelli began playing with the Inter Milan Primavera side.

His time within the youth academy, although short, was stellar. After six goals in nine appearances, a Youth League championship, and a two goal outing in a friendly against Sheffield United in November 2007, Roberto Mancini decided it was time for the 17-year-old Balotelli to join the first team.

Balotelli made his official debut for Inter in a two-nil victory away from home against Cagliari. Goals from Júlio Cruz and David Suazo led Mancini to give Balotelli his debut, however, it lasted only one minute.

Seeing as that isn’t exactly enough time to create a memorable debut, Mancini gave Balotelli his chance to shine just a few days later, when Inter played Reggina in the Round of 16 of the Coppa Italia.

Inter came into the match as heavy favorites, so Balotelli was placed into the starting lineup alongside Serie A great, Hernan Crespo. It was Crespo who opened up scoring for the Nerazzurri, meeting a corner kick with a beautiful header on a near post run to beat Reggina goalkeeper Nenad Novakovic. Soon after, Balotelli extended Inter’s lead and secured his first ever professional goal.

Santiago Solari delivered a free kick from deep in the midfield into the box, where Balotelli met the ball with a header toward goal. His initial attempt was batted away by Novakovic, however, Super Mario gave us a glimpse of the scoring instinct he has by following up and side footing the ball into the roof of the net to open his account for Inter. It is the midst of being congratulated by his teammates where we see the famous Balotelli smile that stretches from ear-to-ear.

More smiles were yet to come, though. Despite allowing Reggina to get a goal back, Inter made sure to shut down any hope of a comeback for Gli Amaranto as Solari found the back of the net from around 25 yards out to put the match to bed. To cap off the night, Balotelli grabbed a second goal to add to the already impressive performance he had put in thus far.

Balotelli’s second goal showecased his blistering pace, as he capitalized on a poor back pass from a Reggina defender. After some miscommunication, Novakovic failed to come off his line and clear the ball, allowing Super Mario to take a touch around the Serbian keeper and put the tie out of reach. No Balotelli performance is complete, though, without a bit of drama. Along with scoring his first two professional goals, Balotelli received his first yellow card in Inter’s 4-1 victory over Reggina.

Balotelli went on to make 11 Serie A appearances in his debut season with Inter, contributing six goals over the course of the 2007/08 season. What would follow would be a three-year career with the Nerazzurri, highlighted by a Serie A title in each one of his seasons at the club and a treble in the 2009/10 season.

Toward the end of his first tenure in Milan, however, is when the attitude and disciplinary problems that plagued Balotelli throughout his career began to show. The 2008/09 season, Inter’s first under Jose Mourinho, saw Balotelli often left out of the squad due to an apparent lack of effort in training. These issues were often brought up by Mourinho and more experienced players such as Zanetti and Marco Materazzi.

Balotelli even managed to butt heads with Inter fans as well, with the San Siro faithful often times booing the Italian forward.

After 86 appearances, 28 goals and 15 assists for the Nerazzurri, Balotelli traded the black and blue of Inter for the sky blue of Manchester City. He would rejoin the man who called him up for his first professional match and continue to work on his game in the Premier League, where he would also be able to call himself a champion after Man City’s famous win on the final match day of the 2011/12 season.

Following his time in Manchester, Super Mario made stops in Milan (this time with the Rossoneri), Liverpool, Nice, and now Marseille. Balotelli failed to impress at Liverpool, and a disappointing second stint at AC Milan saw him lose his spot in the national team and lead many to believe it was curtains for the once promising Italian forward. In spite of that, Balotelli’s move to France has rejuvenated his career.

First with Nice, Balotelli reminded us all of just how lethal he can be in front of goal. 43 goals in 76 appearances in one coastal city earned him a move to another in the form of Marseille. He currently has five goals in seven matches for Rudy Garcia’s side, which makes you think, this may be the time where Super Mario can finally convince the man who gave him a chance at Inter to give him a chance once again with the Azzurri.

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