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Volatile, inconsistent, and yet exceptionally brilliant when on his day, Mario Balotelli finds himself making his six career move in the space of nine years, as he returns to Milan for a second stint.
It was exactly a year ago when Liverpool announced the arrival of Balotelli for a fee of £16million; in a move that cost the Anfield outfit £1 million pounds every time he turned out for the club. Making just 16 appearances for the Kop, Mario lost his ‘Super’ status in dramatic fashion, finding the back of the net just once, as he failed to impress in Steven Gerrard’s last campaign with Liverpool.
Now, in a move that has taken him full circle, the 25-year-old finds himself back in the red and black colours of the team he grew up supporting.
Some may put his return down the fact that he was short of options, but others prefer the thought of fate leading him back to Milanello.
While the Ghanaian-born Italian may have started his career at Inter, Balotelli always held a certain affinity for the Rossoneri more than any other club he played for.
At Milan, there were fewer talks about unrest in the change room, he didn’t get caught guilty of strange antics off the field, and he didn’t have bust-ups to the extent like he did at Inter with Jose Mourinho. Simply put, Balotelli was loved by the fans, and he loved the fans back.
Sadly, the Rossoneri’s failure to qualify for Europe meant they had to release some of their big expenses, and Balotelli was one of them.
His previous exits from the likes of Inter and Manchester City had seen Balo leave on the quiet, but this time round he took the time out to write a message to the club and the Milan fans.
On this occasion, there was no cryptic Instagram message that got deleted later on. This time, the striker held no punches and spoke with his heart.
It was a moving message that left many fans heart-sore, but given his record and his love for the club, there was hope that Balotelli would eventually return to the San Siro be it in one year, two years or five years later.
Sooner it was to be rather than later… During the course of the past 12 months Balotelli often dropped hints about the club, posting pictures up on social media platforms of himself in a Milan kit or of his former teammates. He even paid a quick visit to the club’s headquarters when given free time in Liverpool.
Even with him situated over 1600 km away from the fashion capital, Balotelli never forgot the Diavoli and vice versa. His exit from the team left Pippo Inzaghi’s men often lacking a certain spark upfront - after all, his 26 goals in 43 games for the Rossoneri saw him enjoy his most successful campaign out of all the clubs he had played for.
When asked if he ever imagined returning to Milan, Balotelli replied: “Yes, I have always had Milan in my heart, and I always hoped that I could return."
Still, SuperMario’s return to the San Siro hasn’t been met with pure jubilation, with many feeling that the former Lumezzane product has still not matured – something Sinisa Mihajlovic will be sure to make sure he comes right in.
With the Serbian tactician basing his decisions on merit and discipline, the new signing certainly won’t waltz into first team football no matter how much potential he is yet to display with his feet – and Mario is well aware of that!
“I'm very happy to have returned to Milan. I'm very motivated, but I don't have much desire to talk. I have to work hard and that's it,” he said before undergoing his medical.
“Will I end my career at Milan? I have to work hard and do well this year, and then we will see what happens."
The arrivals of both Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano means that the towering striker faces stiff competition from his teammates, and it remains to be seen how Mihajlovic will land up juggling this attacking trio. What is known is that competition may do the volatile striker good.
Football has often granted Balotelli numerous chances in establishing himself as one of the world’s greatest, but with Milan having directly handed him a second opportunity, he would do good to keep his feet on the ground, work hard and silence the critics.