After a miserable one-and-done season with Liverpool in 2014-15, 25-year old Mario Balotelli has returned to Milan hungry, motivated and determined to prove that he not only belongs with a top-flight club, but also on the flight to France next summer for the Euro 2016.
In a late summer move involving the Merseyside and San Siro clubs, Balotelli found himself back in Italy with the Rossoneri in a deal that surprised many. A 2014-15 season with Liverpool in which the Italian striker scored only 4 goals in 28 matches throughout all competitions, it was statistically his worst season as a professional in his footballing career. Rodgers and the club drifted away from the Champions League spots in the Premier League and suffered dramatically after the loss of Luis Suarez who was sold to Barcelona. Simply put, it was a year to forget for the former Manchester City man.
With Balotelli back in Serie A with Milan and yet another chance to fulfill his potential, the ex-Inter striker has looked strong in his return thus far. The Azzurri’s number 9 made a commitment to the club, the fans and himself that he will do everything he can to succeed and so far, we are seeing it. On the pitch, he is showing once again what he can do with a football at his feet. In his first match this season against Inter in the Derby della Madonnina, Balotelli came on as a substitute in the second half, immediately providing a jolt of energy to his side. He tested the keeper many times from deep and on set-pieces but if you’ve watched him enough you wouldn’t have been surprised by his performance. What has been surprising is the fact that despite the opposition testing his temper on the pitch, he has remained calm. Constantly being knocked, kicked and roughed up, Balotelli has not let opponents get under his skin and get in the way of his game. This has been the most refreshing so far.
Earlier this week against Udinese, Mario Balotelli scored a sensational free-kick goal to open the scoreline. It was a goal like this that made you think: “This is why there is always a club out there willing to give Mario Balotelli a chance.”
So, despite it being only a small sample size of the new Mario Balotelli, it’s worth asking the question: Should Balotelli make the trip to France next summer for Euro 2016?
First, let’s think about this from all angles. Mario Balotelli is still a very young 25 years of age and despite all the baggage, still has much to offer any side when he is right. With Milan, we are seeing that he appears to be changing his immature ways and not letting anyone rustle his feathers. As a result of this, we are seeing him play some very impressive football and showcasing what he can do when his mind his focused on earning the positive result of the match. The hustle, energy, and willingness to give it his all for his teammates is a positive to say the least.
Then there is the Azzurri. Manager Antonio Conte has shuffled his strike force on several occasions in both friendlies and Euro Qualifying matches, deploying the likes of Graziano Pelle and Eder. Both of these players have shown glimpses of being quality for the national side but when the bright lights of a European tournament are on, can they step up?
With Mario, we have seen many times how lethal he is for his country. Just ask Germany and England. At Euro 2012, Balotelli scored an impressive brace against the Germans, leading his country to the final. Last summer, he scored the decisive match-winner against England, proving once again that for country it’s a different Mario Balotelli. In 33 matches for Italy, the Italian has scored an impressive 13 times, according to transfermarkt.com.
In an August article on ESPN FC, Conte left the door open for a possible Mario Balotelli return to the national side, but the former Juventus boss also explained that it will not be just given to him. Conte:
“The doors to the national team are not closed for anyone. But you have to deserve to be part of this team, via performances, behavior and moral aspects which we believe a lot in. It’s up to Balotelli to deserve an eventual return.”
With the uncertainty surrounding the striker position moving forward, Mario Balotelli can find himself back in the hunt to be a key man for his country. So far with Milan, he has been an all-around team player. Even if you aren’t a supporter of Milan, you wish Mario success this season because if he can prove that he has changed for the better under Siniša Mihajlović, then it could lead to Italy reaping the benefits of an impactful difference maker up top.
Mario Balotelli, a man out to prove that he deserves to wear the kit of his beloved Azzurri once again. Will he make it to France?