Published On: Tue, Apr 1st, 2014

Is AC Milan’s ‘SuperMario’ Balotelli really world class?

Balotelli - AC MilanFew footballers attract more attention than Mario Balotelli, but sadly, not entirely for his performances. His intoxicating character has made him one of the most liked and despised names in world football, but has this made us all blind to what is really important: is he actually any good at football?

Fact is Balotelli is a very talented footballer who possesses great ball control, excellent finishing abilities and technical brilliance. He is also quite strong, agile when he wants to be and can provide moments of sheer brilliance from dead-ball situations. These are all perfect ingredients for a striker, but is he world class?

Super Mario‘ has been playing competitively for seven years now and is still just 23 years of age. Although it’s still considered an early stage in his career, the excuses relating to immaturity can only go so far. Balotelli is just a few years away from reaching the prime of his football career and until now it has been marred by adverse media coverage. Football has experienced it’s fair share of characters similar to Balotelli and, for many, their saving grace was their ability to perform.

So far this season Balotelli has scored 17 goals in 33 appearances. Bearing in mind he scored 13 in just 13 matches the previous season, it could be considered a poor return so far for the Italian international. Four of his goals have come from the penalty spot with a further three coming from free kicks. As far as his performances are concerned, he’s more or less the same player that Jose Mourinho grew increasingly frustrated with at Inter.

He’s developed a reputation over the years for being slow, lethargic and seemingly uninterested in a vast majority of games. One of the most aggravating sides to his game is his poor decision-making. Milan have been dependant on Balotelli to finish off attacking moves, so when he decides to take on defences single handed rather than moving with the ball, the attack fizzles out and they have to start again.

Mario Balotelli - AC MilanDespite what many have said, Balotelli is not an especially gifted player from a technical perspective. Rarely have any of his face-off duels with defenders been successful and he would be much more effective in the penalty area. However, the blame doesn’t rest solely with the striker, as his team mates have failed all season to create enticing goal-scoring situations.

If Balotelli has been required to patrol the penalty area and put the goals away, then he should be expected to do so. His tendency to hit the deck not only tarnishes his image but is also unhelpful as far as team performances are concerned. As the focal point of most attacking moves, it’s simply embarrassing to see Balotelli sat looking imploringly towards the referee.

Fortunately for Milan, Balotelli’s situation is far more financially advantageous to them than that of the exiled Alessandro Matri. After a terrible return to his former club that culminated in just a single goal, Matri has since been loaned to Fiorentina with a very small chance of making a return on the €12 million they paid for the striker.

Balotelli cost €20 million and they would surely to receive at least half of that were they to sell. They only question is; are Milan likely to pick up a striker close to Balotelli’s quality? The answer is probably no. Forwards in Europe are numerous but all tend to be very expensive. At such a critical point in the club’s history, the Rossoneri cannot afford to lose their best striker and depend solely on Giampaolo Pazzini.

As the national side’s number one striker, Balotelli has been burdened with responsibility for several years now and doesn’t always make a return. He does however have moments of sheer brilliance where his talent can hardly be questioned. It’s perhaps because of these individual moments that he has cemented his place in the Azzurri side and fought off, arguably, more consistent options.

With the 2014 World Cup squad still undecided, Balotelli’s place is not necessarily secured, with Ciro Immobile and Mattia Destro providing fresh competition. Some of Balotelli’s best performances have been for his country and an assured display in Brazil could go some way toward keeping him at the San Siro.

Ultimately, the career of Mario Balotelli is still in it’s infancy. Most players are expected to hit their peak between the ages of 25 and 28 so their should be still plenty to come. He is not yet a world-class striker but is fortunate to have plenty of platforms to prove his critics wrong.

Follow Louis Gibberd-Thomas on Twitter: @mercutio156

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