Despite his off-pitch foibles and personality quirks, in interviews, Mario Balotelli has consistently proven himself to be one of the most thoughtful, astute, and introspective players in football. He's only been on the international radar for six years or so, but you'll be forgiven for thinking that he's been around forever. His flashy style of play and on-and-off the pitch controversies have made him a media sensation.
Not all of that attention is good, however, and Balotelli has gained a reputation for being volatile and lazy, unwilling to work with one manager after another. However, in an interview with Corriere della Sera, the Italian striker argues that he only ever had a problem with one manager: Brendan Rodgers.
"I had a fantastic rapport with everyone, including the Presidents, Massimo Moratti and Silvio Berlusconi," Balotelli said. "It was disastrous only with one… Brendan Rodgers.
"A fight with Roberto Mancini at Manchester City? I was 19 years old and after a tackle on a teammate he pushed me, saying I could’ve hurt the player. That’s it. That happened on the Friday, on the Sunday I was in the starting XI.
"Jose Mourinho liked to put on a show, but he cared for me. He actually enjoyed riling me up because he thought I’d give more on the pitch if I was annoyed. I will only complain about one thing: he didn’t let me play in the Champions League Final. If I had come on, I would’ve scored. I felt it."
Personalities don't always mesh well, and oftentimes, players find that they aren't a good fit with a certain manager. Egos run high and feelings get hurt, which is all normal. However, in Brendan Rodgers's three and a half years at Liverpool, Balotelli was hardly the first player that expressed displeasure with his methods of man management. Nuri Sahin and Mamadou Sakho are two other players who possess considerable talent and were left feeling hard done by after their time with Rodgers. In defense of the manager, however, it should also be noted that other players such as Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard have nothing but praise for their former manager.
Anyone who is familiar with Balotelli's history knows that he's had to deal with a lot of, well, shit in his life. He's spoken candidly about the racism he's faced first growing up in Italy as an African immigrant raised by white Jewish parents, and then playing club and international football. He also hasn't been shy in his critiques of UEFA and their tepid attempts to stamp out the rampant racism still experienced by black players on the pitch.
Training field bust ups, home-made t-shirts and indoor fireworks aside, Balotelli is certainly a character. His personality may be more entertaining than his football at times.
That, of course, leads to the media jumping on every news story, creating, as the man himself explains, the character of Balotelli.
"At the end of the day, albeit with a few excesses, I don’t think I deserve all this attention, good and bad. This character has been created around me and I am not allowed to do anything more or less.
"I am not a hypocrite, I do get upset when I end up in the papers for doing something silly, but I don’t like it when they exaggerate in the positive either. Balotelli scores two goals? He’s a phenomenon! I’d just like to be a player like anyone else. Well, maybe a bit better than the others…
"Balotelli is the player. Mario is something else. It’s easier to describe Balotelli than Mario. Balotelli is the character created by the papers: the one who smiles or doesn’t smile, scores a great goal, misses a penalty, doesn’t celebrate and is judged by those who watch him play.
"Mario is a 25-year-old guy who cannot have a normal life, but tries, spending time with his daughter when possible, with friends, family, the PlayStation. Every now and then I tell my friends: what I’d give to swap places with you for a week. Just as long as you don’t create any chaos…
"Great responsibility is more for a person than a player. As a player, I am paid to score goals and I have to do that. Responsibility is in my behaviour. I am trying.
"Being a father is wonderful. I can’t be with Pia all the time, as her mother causes problems, but if I had her at my house every day I’d be the happiest man in the world."
Constant media scrutiny must be exhausting, and it seems clear that Balotelli is trying, and has spent well over a year controversy free, unless you count being six pounds overweight a controversy, like the English media did last September.
As for his Liverpool future, Balotelli says that he hopes to play at Anfield next season. Given the options that Jürgen Klopp has up front, and taking into account the manager's chosen style of play, it seems unlikely that we'll ever see Super Mario in Liverpool Red again. At 25-years-old, his career is far from over. His Liverpool career, however, doesn't seem like it is going to be resurrected, but we sincerely hope that he finds success wherever he goes next.