The big leagues have given up on Mario Balotelli as he heads to Cluj

The big leagues have FINALLY given up on madcap Mario Balotelli, as he looks set to sign for Romanian side Cluj after an acrimonious exit from Brescia. A player blessed with huge talent is now struggling just to stay in the game

  • Balotelli is on the verge of joining the Romanian club Cluj after he left Brescia
  • His homecoming to the Serie A club ended in relegation and overweight jibes
  • The Italian striker remains much-loved at Man City for his time with the club
  • But glory days with City and Inter Milan a long time ago for this divisive figure
  • He struggled at AC Milan and Liverpool before finding goals again at Nice
  • Since then, Balotelli has gone through Marseille and Brescia in quick succession 

Nine years on, Mario Balotelli has finally come up with a reason for that impetuous backheel in Los Angeles. The one American television commentators hammered him for ‘disrespecting LA Galaxy’.

The one when, midway through a friendly on Manchester City’s tour of the west coast, he inexplicably spun on his heels when clean through to flick wide without a care in the world. 

The one when an incandescent Roberto Mancini hauled him off within moments and team-mates publicly called him out. That one.

Edin Dzeko remonstrates with Mario Balotelli after his inexplicable backheel shot when clean through on goal during Manchester City’s pre-season game against LA Galaxy in 2011

Balotelli never saw eye-to-eye with City manager Roberto Mancini when at the club

‘I thought I was offside,’ Balotelli said. ‘Listen to the whistle before I shot, that’s why I did it.’ 

There was indeed an audible whistle, albeit a shriek that sounded like it had emanated from a middle-aged bloke decked in clown gear at a fairground. Certainly not from a referee.

City staff eventually – eventually being the operative word – shrugged their shoulders at the incident. 

After all, that was Mario, and the pass he slid to Sergio Aguero nine months later was a key ingredient in the most dramatic Premier League title race ever. 

Balotelli will always be welcome back at the Etihad Stadium with opens arms, as he was for Vincent Kompany’s testimonial last year. There is a special place and fondness for him in east Manchester.

That does not extend to many other areas of Europe, though, and Balotelli’s career has continued on a downward trajectory for some time now. 

The Italian reveals his famous ‘Why always me?’ shirt after scoring against Manchester United

Balotelli (left) with manager Mancini as Vincent Kompany lifts the Premier League in 2012

He has left Brescia after a season, a relationship that began to unravel when the Serie A strugglers updated his medical details on their official website to claim the striker was eight kilogrammes overweight. 

He had been refused entry into the training ground once sessions resumed following the lifting of lockdown restrictions in Italy. His last appearance came on March 9 and Brescia were subsequently relegated.

So, shockingly – and despite a strong start to his time at a place he was once a ballboy – the exit between Balotelli and a club owned by Massimo Cellino was acrimonious. 

He looks for new employers once again, with Romanian champions CFR Cluj seemingly next. Their owner, Nelutu Varga, has spoken about signing a ‘top Italian striker’, which has been taken to mean Balotelli.

Flamengo in Brazil have also been interested in signing the 29-year-old. Cluj will play in European competition next season, although wages could act as a roadblock to the move. 

Mario Balotelli is a free agent after quitting Brescia last month following a contract dispute

The Italian striker was turned away from Brescia’s training ground last month

Brescia updated Balotelli’s weight to 99.8kg, making the striker officially 8kg overweight

CFR Cluj manager Dan Petrescu is close to signing the former Manchester City striker

A move to the Romanian side would represent his fourth permanent club in four years

Balotelli’s career CV 

2005-06 Lumezzane

2 games, 0 goals

2007-2010 Inter Milan

86 games, 28 goals

2010-2013 Manchester City

80 games, 30 goals

2013-2014 AC Milan

54 games, 30 goals

2014-2016 Liverpool

28 games, 4 goals

2015-2016 AC Milan (loan)

23 games, 3 goals

2016-2019 Nice

76 games, 43 goals

2019 Marseille

15 games, 8 goals

2019-2020 Brescia

19 games, 5 goals

The club’s best players typically earn up to £10,000 a week and there was disquiet among the squad when veteran Julio Baptista was signed on significantly more having barely kicked a ball for two years prior.

Rocking up in Romania would feel in keeping with Balotelli’s nomadic career as he looks for a ninth permanent home. 

Those include both Milan giants, and the two spells at AC Milan were the realisation of a dream for the boyhood fan – and one that Inter knew would eventually happen.

When he arrived at Inter training sporting AC Milan socks, Matteo Materazzi cut them in half to laughter. 

When Balotelli donned the red and black on a television show, mirth was in shorter supply. 

In his defence, the footage of him pulling the shirt on was filmed secretly and he appeared embarrassed and rather perplexed when the jersey – complete with his name and number – was presented to him.

But these episodes have always followed him. Myths have too. 

Balotelli never truly fit into the professional game, particularly in England, and was not on the same page with older players. At City they accepted that, and it was put down to his tender age, but other clubs have not entertained it since.

Liverpool was a disaster, one Premier League goal to his name following the management’s desperation to replace Luis Suarez. 

Balotelli trained poorly at Melwood, ended up with the kids, and Jurgen Klopp wanted him gone on arrival. 

Rickie Lambert was preferred to him on a regular basis and there, more strikingly than anywhere else, was the feeling that his attitude hindered progress.

Balotelli shot to prominence at Inter Milan, where he enjoyed three successful seasons

The striker was mobbed by fans when he decided to sign for AC Milan from Manchester City

Balotelli struggled at Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp wasted little time getting rid of him

Perceptions change with age and, while he was viewed at City as a youngster they could let run free within reason, the Balotelli at Liverpool was a man approaching the middle of his career. 

The time for larks – messing about with his camouflage car, the smoking – was over. Brendan Rodgers could not shake off the character flaws, although those had morphed from insolence in Manchester to sullenness on Merseyside. 

They also struggled to contain a friend who often roamed Melwood. Klopp had seen and heard more than enough from afar.

It is hard to believe that this was the same player who was named in the Euro 2012 team of the tournament. Unplayable on his day, yet those days became ever more infrequent. 

Nice seemed a good fit for two years before Balotelli downed tools and went to Marseille. ‘He is a former team-mate, that is it,’ Nice’s Malang Sarr said. ‘He knows very well that his behaviour was not appreciated by everyone. He wasted six months.’

The Italian striker did get back on the goal trail during his time with French club Nice

He moved along the French coast to Marseille in January last year but didn’t stay long

Balotelli’s homecoming to Brescia didn’t exactly prove as successful as he’d hoped

Balotelli’s next destination could be Cluj, who have just won the Romanian league title

Those six months started with the appointment of Patrick Vieira. ‘When it comes to Mario, I want to answer back, or just slam him up against the wall or leave him hanging by his collar on the coat rack,’ Vieira said. ‘But I can’t, as I’m no longer a player.’

Compare that description of Balotelli, by this point in his late 20s, to the story regaled by City when he did £300,000 worth of damage to his Cheshire mansion by lighting fireworks indoors in 2011. Indoor fireworks were a semi-regular occurrence.

Bathroom ablaze, two days out from a Manchester derby (one in which he excelled and unveiled the ‘Why Always Me?’ t-shirt upon scoring), Balotelli called a club employee late at night.

‘What should I do?’ he asked. Had he dialled 999? No. Well, do that. ‘That was Mario,’ they said.

The patience of others has waned over time. If it is to be Cluj, we are past a resurrection of a career. Now it is just merely about staying in the game. Balotelli is 30 next week.

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