The forward is now at newly-promoted Turkish Super Lig club Adana Demirspor and, despite his ongoing detractors, he is actually enjoying a good season so far, scoring five league goals 12 appearances.
But why is maverick Balotelli – who is only 31 – still not tearing it up in one of Europe’s top leagues rather than quietly impressing in the second-rate Turkish top flight?
The Italian striker will be remembered by some as being an inspirational cog in Manchester City’s Premier League title-winning side of 2012, but plenty of others will shake their heads in disbelief at what they perceive to have been a wasted talent.
Clearly, he was a gifted striker, who had all the attributes to have a long and successful club and international career. However, the feeling remains that overall Balotelli has struggled to live up to expectations as bizarre off-field antics, disciplinary problems and periods of woeful form in front of goal have come to define this nomadic and enigmatic player rather than what he did manage to achieve on the pitch.
Early Barca Trial
Let’s start with the positives. Balotelli was such a highly-regarded youngster at Lombardy club FC Lumezzane that he went for a trial at Spanish giants Barcelona after playing just twice for the first team. Barca didn’t take him on but he was soon making headlines in his native Italy, scoring in the Coppa Italia and Serie A for Inter Milan in the 2007-08 season as a teenager.
He then became the youngest Inter player, at 18 years and 85 days old, to score in the Champions League when he notched in a 3-3 draw against Anorthosis Famagusta. He seemed to be thriving under Roberto Mancini – a coach he would later win the Premier League alongside at City but one he also had a love-hate relationship with.
By 2009, though, early disciplinary problems started to dog him following Mancini’s exit and, with Jose Mourinho in charge, he was suspended from the first team and eventually joined City in 2010. Powerful frontline performances, several goals and an unpredictable but likeable character endeared him to the City fans and arguably his three years at the Etihad is where he enjoyed his best times.
Even though he’d already seemingly fallen out with Mancini after he picked up his fourth red card of the season in the spring of 2012, he still played a key role in the hugely dramatic last-day victory over QPR which secured City their first title since 1968 when he came off the bench to lay on the assist for Sergio Aguero’s unforgettable late goal. Remarkably, he remains the only Italian player to win the Premier League.
City weighed up the pros and cons of Balotelli and decided they were better off without him and he continued to frustrate and impress in equal measure thereafter, scoring a not-too-shabby 26 Serie A goals in a two-year spell back in Milan, this time with AC Milan. He then flopped miserably at Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers in 2014-15, scoring just one league goal in a transfer that seemed to be doomed before it got underway, but he still showed his eye for goal in France when he netted 33 times in the league in 61 appearances for Nice between 2016-19.
His international record also stands up to scrutiny, with 14 goals in 36 caps for Italy, including three as he finished joint top-scorer at the Euros in 2012.
In more recent years, he’s turned out for the likes of Marseille, Brescia and Monza, never settling but still managing to score at least five goals for each club, and he’s now hoping to help Adana Demirspor establish themselves in the Turkish top flight.
Balotelli has been no stranger to negative tabloid headlines throughout his career, too, with an infamous incident widely reported in 2011 when he decided to let off fireworks with friends from his bathroom window, setting his house on fire instead.
Plenty of managers have been left exasperated by Balotelli, including Mancini, Rodgers and, belatedly at Nice, Patrick Vieira, but he insists his bad-boy label and troublesome character is a bit of a media myth.
Upon joining the Turkish side in the summer, he was quoted as saying: “The thing is, ‘Mario is crazy’ is just something that the newspapers made up over the years. I see myself as a normal person. I am not crazy at all. I just enjoy (myself) sometimes. (For the media) every footballer needs to be like soldiers.”
It seems unlikely that this most unpredictable of strikers will get another chance in one of Europe’s so-called elite leagues but here’s hoping a more mature Balotelli will now enjoy the latter stages of his chequered career in Turkey.