The Italian national, born to Ghanaian immigrants but fostered by an affluent Italian family, was told to “get out” of the country in an Instagram post after his side dropped out in the group stages.
He took the bait and, in a translated comment, was quoted as saying: “I did not choose to be Italian, I really wanted to be because I was born in Italy and have always lived in Italy. I was hoping for a lot from this World Cup and I am sad, angry and disappointed with myself.”
But he then later added: “Perhaps, as you say, I am not really Italian. Africans would never heap everything on one of their ‘brothers’. In this sense, us blacks, as you call us, are light-years ahead of you...”
Balotelli has lived a balance between genius and disaster throughout his career.
His legendary, possibly apocryphal, off-pitch antics include being fined for going to a strip club, having a mock sword fight in a restaurant, burning down his bathroom with fireworks, giving a bully a dressing down, throwing darts at youth team players and paying a beggar £1,000.
On the pitch, he has been punished for karate kicking, stamping on heads, having fist fights and even grappling with his manager.
He has been described as “unmanageable” by Jose Mourinho and was once quoted as saying: “I wish my bad side was badder (sic). Sometimes I'd like to really p*** people off on the pitch.”
But this World Cup, Balotelli’s first, was supposed to be his big opportunity. After achieving his dream of playing for Italy and shining in the Euros in 2012, his move from Manchester City to Milan saw him become a centrepiece for the team. But he was mercilessly criticised by the Italian media when things failed to go to plan.
He hit out at journalists when sent off against the Czech Republic at the start of the season, was caught telling a referee “I’ll kill you” and pushed a cameraman to the ground on the way to training. His discipline record in the first half season eclipsed his scoring tally, with 10 goals compared with 10 yellows and one red card.
His private life also proved distracting – with DNA test results in February confirming he fathered the child of ex-girlfriend Raffaella Fico and, just a few days before the World Cup, the announcement on Instagram that he was engaged to girlfriend Fanny Neguesha.
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli told him to relax and feel the nation’s love and he told fans on Twitter: “I don't see it as a big stage for me. I want to go and enjoy the experience and I will."
In the opener against England he scored the winner, was man of the match and was proclaimed by the manager as “the man who would take us to the moon”.
An Instagram picture showed him as ‘mature and happy.’ Then before the second game, he tweeted: “If we beat Costa Rica I want a kiss, obviously on the cheek, from the UK Queen.”
But from there it all went downhill.
He had one shot on target as Italy lost and then, against Uruguay, touched the ball just 17 times and made more fouls than any other player before being taken off at half-time after kneeing Alvaro Pereira in the back of the head.
Prandelli resigned and said of his striker: “Picking Balotelli was my mistake.”
Balotelli, through his agent, blamed Italy’s defensive tactics – but ultimately the whole experience again proved him as a flawed genius.
"He's proved he’s not consistent enough,” said Eurosport columnist Andy Mitten. “For talk of him being a big-game player, he was anonymous in two of the three World Cup matches. "He's forever saying sorry after another childlike misdemeanour, but it's Groundhog Day - he doesn't learn.
“Unless he changes his character to adapt more to a team environment, I see a future of frequent career moves driven by an agent not adverse to pushing for big signing on fees.”
There is, however, a lot of emotion and anger in the fall-out from Italy’s failure.
Once time heals, Balotelli is likely to be picked for Italy again, and already Arsenal are being touted as his next club move – potentially making it four top-tier clubs in six years.
Because ultimately, even with the misdemeanours, he is too talented to ignore.
- Will Gray
- Sports & Recreation
- Mario Balotelli