He's crazy, he's a genius, he's unstable, he's incredible, he's Super Mario Balotelli, and he's only 21-years old.
The enigmatic Manchester City and Italy striker has quickly become one of the most polarizing players in international soccer. His strange behavior has sometimes clouded the view of his stunning play on the field, but make no mistake, Balotelli is one of the best strikers in the game today, and will be for a long time.
Balotelli is of Ghanaian descent, but was born in Palermo, Sicily, and is therefore eligible to play for the Italian national team. After suffering through his early life in cramped conditions and with constant health problems, his family entrusted him to a foster family in Francesco and Silvia Balotelli.
Balotelli's relationship with his real parents has since deteriorated. The young player expressed anger in 2008 after his blood-family made it public that they had put him up for adoption and expressed intentions to bring him back home.
Why did they never ask the courts to take me back once I had recovered from illness? He asked in a report published by the Daily Mail. My adopted parents used to take me there to see them but they were never at home.
Balotelli became an official Italian citizen that same year and was called to Italy's U-21 team just 16 days later. He scored in his very first appearance for Azzurini, and was added to the senior team two years after that. Balotelli was one of the first black players to ever make the Italian first team, showcasing his immense talent. He also became the first black player to score for Italy, with his goal against Poland in November 2011.
Balotelli has also had enormous success at the club level, starting with lower level A.C. Lumezzane at 15, and being sent to Inter Milan shortly after he turned 16. Balotelli's game translated to Serie A almost flawlessly, and he performed amazingly for then-coach Roberto Mancini. After Mancini was replaced with Jose Mourinho, a long run of disciplinary problems began.
Mourinho publicly questioned Balotelli's effort many times and it led to friction between Balotelli, his teammates, and the Inter Milan fans. He was dropped from the first team numerous times in 2009 and constantly dealt with soccer fans not ready to see a black player succeed. Balotelli was subject to racist chants on numerous occasions in Serie A and even had bananas thrown at him during Italy's game against Croatia this summer.
Balotelli's problems with the Inter Milan management came to a head in March of 2010 when he was publicly spotted wearing a jersey from Inter's fierce rivals, A.C. Milan. His problems at Inter seemed never-ending, and yet he still continued to demonstrate fiery and competitive play on the pitch. Mancini, who had started managing Manchester City in 2009, decided to bring Balotelli to England and use his talents there.
While playing for City, Balotelli won the Golden Boy Award, given to the best under-21 player in Europe, and was also involved with numerous disciplinary issues. The trend of amazing play and strange behavior continued as he was caught throwing darts at youth team players in March, and was named man of the match for Manchester City's F.A. Cup Final win over Stoke City in May of 2011.
The next season Balotelli and Mancini lifted the English Premier League trophy together, Manchester City's first title since 1968. That season, Balotelli had two dust-ups with teammates Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott, had fireworks set off in his own bathroom that triggered a fire, and was banned for four games after appearing to stamp on the hand of Tottenham's Scott Parker.
The list of Mario Balotelli's disciplinary problems is just as long if not longer then the list of his accomplishments. Now, Balotelli could go down as a national hero if he can replicate his scoring form his two-goal semifinal performance against Spain in the European Championship final this Sunday. After a solid competition, Balotelli sparked into life against Germany and he has been behaving himself to this point in the tournament.
The book is still out on Balotelli, and managers, teammates, and fans constantly wonder who the real Mario Balotelli is. During the short span of his career, he has been many things, and it is impossible to tell which hat he will wear on a given day. However, throughout it all, he has always been Super.