[dropcap]e[/dropcap]spite still only being 25, Mario Balotelli’s career to date has been action-packed, full of controversies and containing plenty of ups and downs.
The Italy international has showcased the ridiculous and the sublime in almost equal measures over the years, but it now appears that the tempestuous striker has a real point to prove.
A new-but-familiar challenge awaits Balotelli this season, as he has returned to AC Milan after a tough 12 months at Liverpool.
The Rossoneri know the centre forward better than most, as the Stadio San Siro outfit had the striker on their books for 18 months before he returned to English football.
The fact that the Serie A powerhouses sold Balotelli to the Merseysiders in the first place gives an indication into the player’s good and bad points.
His season and a half at Milan was arguably the most impressive in front of goal throughout his career, with the powerful attacker scoring an excellent 26 times in 43 Serie A outings.
That the Rossoneri were willing to part company with the attacker, despite his prowess in front of goal, gives an insight into the baggage that the player brings with him.
Once labelled unmanageable by José Mourinho, Balotelli enraged Roberto Mancini at Manchester City and was forced out of Milan.
Although his trademark controversies were kept to a minimum at Liverpool, his performances were few and far between, with the striker not living up to the showings he had displayed elsewhere.
Looking at it objectively, a return to the Rossoneri looks like a progressive move for Balotelli.
Going back to a club he knows well, in a league that he has shown that he can prosper in makes sense.
The San Siro faithful will hope that the loan star can replicate these performances for Siniša Mihajlović, but he has a considerable task at hand.
Unlike when Balotelli was at Milan last and for the club ever since, the Rossoneri now have established striking options that will act as substantial competition for a starting berth in the line-up.
Last season the Italian club relied on Jérémy Ménez’s goals, as the attacking midfielder played out of position.
Now however, with Milan clearly keen to make up for their lack of firepower, the Serie A side have splurged on strike pairing Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano over the summer.
Both arrive at the San Siro with considerable reputations and goalscoring records, with Mihajlović clearly having the idea of partnering the two number nines in his attack.
As both hit the back of the net yesterday in Milan’s 2-1 win over Empoli, Balotelli was an unused substitute, looking on from the bench.
Given the quality of Adriano and Bacca, the 25-year-old will have to bide his time to get an opportunity, with every chance that the Italy international could be limited to severely restricted chances for his loan employers.
Although Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani has stated that Balotelli’s attitude in training has been exemplary so far, the striker is not renowned for his patience and as such the fact that he is not first choice will be a real test of the forward’s character.
Balotelli is a talented player but a man that relies on confidence. He has shown that he can compete at the sport’s pinnacle, with his goals against Germany in Euro 2012 a classic example of how devastating he can be when he is in his pomp.
The striker’s stint at Milan is by no means his last chance as others would have you believe, but it could well be the biggest challenge of his career to date given the stellar competition for starting berths at the club.
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