Itâ€™s a new day and yes, youâ€™ve guessed it Hammers’ fans, Gianfranco Zola is being linked with another loan move, another Italian and another player from Inter. Are the Nerazzurri becoming West Hamâ€™s feeder club? This time the rumours focus on centre-forward “Super” Mario Balotelli, the 18-year-old striker who is considered the next big thing in Italian football.
Super Mario had a difficult first few years on this planet. Born to Ghanaian immigrants, at just three years old Balotelli was struck down with a mystery illness and, with his parents sadly unable to cope with the needs of their sick child, were forced to put their son up for adoption. Mario was placed in foster care with the Balotelli family and his formal adoption was legalised last year.
During his teens Balotelli was spotted by Inter scouts whilst playing for Lumezzane, and it wasn’t long before the Serie A giants made their move. Just two years later, at the young age of 17, Balotelli made his first team debut and to-date the forward has chalked up 33 first team appearances, netting 11 goals in the process.
Balotelli is a player with the lot. Standing at 6ft 2 inches, Balotelli has the upper body strength to mark him out Didier Drogba II. He is blessed with exceptional speed to boot, and once he has reached full throttle he is almost unstoppable. And crucially, unlike many young strikers composure in front of goal is not a problem for Mario, leading to his impressive 1:3 goal ratio so far in his career.
However, mimicking Chelsea’s second-striker back in his heyday, Balotelli comes with a severe health warning. Much like Nicolas Anelka back in his youth, Super Mario’s character swings from self-confidence in his own ability to what others describe as extreme arrogance. This can then play out on the field from petulant tantrums to reckless bookings and red-cards.
Balotelli’s difficult character was flagged up by Jose Mourinho back in January after the Special One chose to axe the striker form the senior team due to behavioral problems. As explained by Mourinho at the time, “As far as I’m concerned a young boy like him cannot allow himself to train less than people like Figo, Cordoba or Zanetti. I can’t accept that from someone who is still a nobody, who hasn’t made it yet, who is still a talent with potential. He needs to train harder, to understand what are the important things for me which I think are important for him and his future. Because if he was to train half as hard as players like Zanetti and the others, he would be one of the best in the world. But he only trains 25 percent as hard.”
Italian Under-21 coach, Pierluigi Casiraghi, has also has reason to criticise Balotelli for his attitude. Only a month after his troubles began with Inter, in February 2009 Balotelli then irked his international boss by reportedly oversleeping so as to miss a flight to Trieste, where he was due to meet up with the rest of the squad. “Seeing a lad of his talent who at 18 behaves like this, both with the national team and his club is infuriating,” commented Casiraghi.
Sometimes however, trouble also follows Balotelli. The striker has repeatedly found himself the victim of racial abuse both on and off the field. Incidents have ranged from Roma fans reportedly throwing bananas at Balotelli in a bar, to Juventus being forced to play behind closed doors after their fans were found guilty of racist chanting towards the teenager.
Cute as a somewhat divisive and disruptive figure, risks attach to any move for Balotelli. His potential is undoubted, but his ability to cause trouble comes in a close second. Hammers fans beware.
Video evidence of Mario Balotelli can be seen here.