x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Taunts from rival fans will test resolve of AC Milan's Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli had a stellar debut for AC Milan last weekend but his first away match with the club should be very telling, writes Ian Hawkey.

AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli celebrates after scored both goals for his team in a 2-1 win over Udinese on Sunday. Antonio Calanni / AP photo
AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli celebrates after scored both goals for his team in a 2-1 win over Udinese on Sunday. Antonio Calanni / AP photo

Mario Balotelli's return to Serie A, two-and-half years after becoming a marginal figure at Inter Milan, has so far been a triumph.

He is entitled to feel his first few days back in Italy have been blessed: a warm welcome, more than €20 million (Dh99.4m) worth of confidence displayed in him by his new employers, AC Milan, and then the luck that, because Giampaolo Pazzini was injured in the warm-up to Sunday's match, Balotelli started, rather than, as planned, coming on as a substitute. Bingo: he hits two goals in a 2-1 victory.

These are early days. He was allowed to leave Manchester City, as he had been let go by Inter, because the bad of Balotelli was outweighing the good. The bad is well chronicled: practice ground fights; immature behaviour off the field; indiscipline on it.

Assuming he comes through Wednesday's friendly for Italy unscathed, Balotelli will play his first away game on Sunday.

Again, he may be in luck and not be up against a hostile crowd, if Cagliari are obliged to move the game from Sardinia's Is Arenas because of the safety concerns that tend to arise around big matches there.

But soon Balotelli will hear long and loud in an away ground provocative taunts. His fame and profile guarantee that. Above all, it is to be hoped he is not racially abused, as he has been in the past.

Just as Balotelli knows his career is on a form of probation, any lurking bigots in Serie A crowds must know clearly they are too.

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