Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Super Mario Balotelli looks for home comforts in Serie A with Brescia and targets yet another career reboot

Maverick Italian striker hopes for some stability at his hometown club after a turbulent and controversial career at some of Europe's top sides

Mario Balotelli poses with Brescia president Massimo Cellino after signing for his hometown club in August. EPA
Mario Balotelli poses with Brescia president Massimo Cellino after signing for his hometown club in August. EPA

Nobody does an entrance quite like Mario Balotelli. Not many footballers have made so many brusque exits, either.

As Super Mario begins his career at his eighth different club employer, the great expectations can only be tinged with anxious wondering how long this episode might last.

The great maverick of Italian football should return to Serie A action on Tuesday after an exile of almost three-and-a-half years, a gap extended by over a month by a four-match suspension he carried over from his last rollercoaster ride, through France’s Ligue 1.

It has left him a slightly detached observer of his new club, Brescia’s efforts to consolidate their status in Italy’s top division. So far, so promising.

Brescia, promoted in the summer, sit 11th in the table, above Balotelli’s old club, AC Milan, on goal difference, and emboldened by the knowledge their most celebrated signing since they scooped up Roberto Baggio in 2000, is waiting to pull on the distinctive V-emblazoned jersey and add his brilliance and his glamour to the cause.

Balotelli at Brescia is a romantic story. His adoptive mother cried when he told her he was coming. He grew up in a village just outside Brescia and there came under the care of Silvia and Francesco Balotelli.

He played his first organised football in the city. He watched from the Rigamonti as Baggio and a young Andrea Pirlo took on the heavyweights of Serie A.

On Tuesday, Balotelli has his first chance to do as they did. With a typical sense of theatre, Super Mario’s ban – imposed for a red card in his last match in a brief, eventful spell at Olympique Marseille – ends just in time for the visit of Juventus, the champions. The 29-year-old is raring to go, he told the Dazn channel. “I haven’t trained so hard for a decade. The last time I was this weight was when I was at Manchester City.”

Balotelli’s City years are a natural reference point, the period after Balotelli signed, as he turned 20, from Inter Milan, and in English football established himself as Mercurial Mario, match-winner and headline-maker.

The stories are many, some of them true. Yes, there was a dangerous incident involving fireworks at his home; he did wear a shirt bearing the words ‘Why Always Me?’.

He also contributed decisively to City’s dramatic 2012 Premier League title, 18 months before leaving, after a lengthy dispute about a fine imposed on him for his poor disciplinary record.

From City to AC Milan, to Liverpool, back to Milan and then to Nice for a largely happy spell. This being Balotelli, it was not all sunshine in the south of France, though.

His switch, last January, to Marseille followed a breakdown in his relationship with Nice head coach and former City colleague, Patrick Vieira. He left Marseille regarded, again, as a perplexing enigma: he scored eight goals in 15 games there but stayed too little time to truly belong.

Brescia signed him without a fee. “I believe he can become a leader here,” said Eugenio Corini, the Brescia manager, as he contemplated at what stage tonight to use Balotelli against a Juventus showing unusual frailties in defence.

He knows Balotelli has an uncanny knack of explosive debuts, of stealing the show. It goes all the way back to his senior bow, away at Padova for Lumezzane in Serie C, when, aged 15, he set up the only goal of the match.

Twenty months later, when Balotelli made his first start for Inter, at Reggina, he scored twice.

There was a goal on his debut for Italy under-21s. On his first competitive start for City, in the Europa League, he struck the winner, at Poli Timisoara.

Famous, and somewhat notorious, when he first joined AC Milan, he scored after 25 minutes, and then converted a penalty to beat Udinese 2-1 in the 90th minute. His first spell at Milan was dreamy: 10 goals from his first 11 Serie A starts.

At Liverpool, his reputation sank. A return to Milan in 2015 restored it somewhat. That spell was kick-started by a goal from a direct free-kick five minutes into the first start of his Serie A return.

The list goes on. Balotelli struck two goals for Nice on his Ligue 1 bow; he had been on the pitch barely 20 minutes as a Marseille player when he struck his first goal for them.

More of that, please, beg Brescia’s loyalists, as they welcome Balotelli, the errant hero who found his way home.

Updated: September 24, 2019 12:59 PM

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