Sometimes you have to ignore the talent and accept that it’s being heavily outweighed by a number of negative and at times unlikeable factors.
Mario Balotelli to Arsenal is a story that makes sense due to the club’s need for a star striker – and the Italian international very much has the credentials to be considered a star striker. His two-goal performance for his national team at Euro 2012 against Germany springs to mind; his coolness under pressure from the penalty spot; his goal scoring record – 30 in 54 – since moving from Manchester City to AC Milan in January 2013. All desirable characteristics for the Arsenal team at this time.
But it’s not enough to outweigh the petulance and the insubordination towards both coaches and senior players. His scoring record at Milan reads well, but this is a player who doesn’t so much go missing during games as become a hindrance towards anything good his side are trying to create. Quite simply, when Balotelli is bad, he can be terrible.
They all come with an element of risk. There are few forward targets for Arsenal this summer that won’t have their detractors for one reason or another. And here’s why there could be something in this link to the Italian forward: Arsene Wenger has done well in the past with troubled players, players who are considered rough around the edges and need moulding into professionals. Balotelli has been around for years – all at major clubs around Europe – but he’s still only 23. Robin van Persie was 21 when he arrived at Arsenal, complete with a reputation as a youngster who needed to be tamed.
If Wenger can get the best out of Balotelli and finally bring his fiery nature under control, the rewards would be huge. The striker has it all to become one of the best in Europe: athletic, quick, powerful, fantastic technique. He could, with the right application, be great for this Arsenal team.
In further defence of the player, a lot of greats, not just footballers, have a screw loose. They’re a little wacky and do things that normal people perceive to be mental, like setting off fireworks indoors and driving around in a camouflaged Bentley. And sometimes people love it. The media in England lapped it up. He, like Jose Mourinho, is box office.
It’s also hard not to feel some sympathy for Balotelli. Trouble just has a way of finding or catching up with him, which ultimately leads to clubs running out of patience. Inter Milan and Manchester City knew they had a talent on their hands in the Italian, but they couldn’t be convinced to hang on a little longer. There are, naturally, conflicting reports on this, but AC Milan could also be thinking the same.
It also has to be asked whether Balotelli fits in with the undivided nature of the squad at the Emirates, though once again it could be a case whereby the influence of someone like Wenger calms him down sufficiently to settle down well in north London.
Fundamentally, Arsenal are in a position now where they need to push on from that FA Cup win and the new three-year contract signed by Wenger. Balotelli, unfortunately, comes with too much baggage. Even if you ignore his off-field antics, he can become a liability on the pitch. He’s far too much of a gamble for Arsenal to take at this time, which is a shame, because at his best he’s the type of forward who can round out an already very good team at the Emirates and turn them into title winners.