You have to feel for Mario Balotelli. Labels tend to follow footballers around wherever they go, and although Balotelli has had his problems in the past, his most recent issues have been far from his own doing.
The 29-year-old made an emotional and romantic return to Serie A with hometown club Brescia, who had just secured promotion to Italy’s top tier. It seemed a match made in heaven, and we were all desperate to see the happy Balotelli return to our screens.
However, it’s safe to say that his fairytale has become a nightmare – and through no fault of his own. The Italy international suffered terrible racist abuse during an away match at Hellas Verona, and the striker responded by firing the ball towards the home supporters in his rage.
Not only did the league take almost no action against Verona, but Brescia’s Ultras wrote a lengthy statement supporting the actions of the opposition fans, and telling Balotelli that he needs to toughen up if he wants to remain with Le Rondinelle.
Brescia’s owner Massimo Cellino then made an awful ‘joke’ in incredibly bad taste, saying ‘Balotelli’s problem is that he is black, and he needs to lighten up’.
Cellino later declared that Balotelli can leave Brescia for free this January, as the relationship between player, fans and hierarchy seems irreparably damaged.
It comes as no surprise then, that Balotelli wants out.
Unfortunately, the former Manchester City striker’s signature comes with the caveat that, wherever he goes, trouble follows. But he has undoubtedly grown up during his time away from England.
The great beauty of Balo is, that whether he rocked up in the upper echelons or the foot of the Premier League table, we wouldn’t be entirely surprised by either transition.
With that in mind, 90min investigates which clubs should make a move for the want-away striker in this January transfer window.
Roma are a team on the up under new coach Paulo Fonseca, and they look set to go the distance in a top-four race, while also competing for Europa League glory at the same time.
Their attacking options are wafer thin however, as I Giallorossi rely heavily on the ageing Edin Dzeko to shoulder the brunt of the attacking responsibility.
Nikola Kalinic was brought in on loan, but the Croatian striker has not set the capital city alight at all this season. Balotelli could offer Dzeko some much-needed respite and his cameos would not leave the Italian giants short of quality up top.
With the Bosnian approaching the twilight of his career, there could be an opening for that starting spot for Mario to target.
José Mourinho and Mario Balotelli reunited. Who wouldn’t want to see that?
The fiery pair regularly had spats which would end most normal relationships, but a fondness remained between the coach and player, which could be the catalyst for Tottenham Hotspur to take a risk on Balotelli this January.
The 29-year-old would have to be satisfied playing second fiddle to Harry Kane, but Spurs’ attacking alternatives are non-existent. Should Kane pick up an injury, the north London club lack an experienced replacement, and Balotelli could be the man to lead the line in the event of a crisis.
Mourinho’s new charm and happy persona gives Balotelli the chance to right all the previous wrongs – or equally he could turn his boss back into the Grumpy One.
Sevilla Sporting Director Monchi returned to the south of Spain this summer, and set about building a brand new squad for los Nervionenses. Although he failed spectacularly at Roma, his work back in Spain has come up trumps. Sevilla are third in the La Liga table, and they are only a point shy of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
What they do lack, is a goalscorer. Munir and Lucas Ocampos share the top-scorer position with five goals apiece, but if the Spanish side wants to remain competitive throughout the season, they need to add more goals to their game.
Balotelli could be a viable and low-budget opportunity that is too good for Monchi to pass up, but would his arrival upset the applecart?
If there’s one thing that the people of Newcastle love, it’s a maverick. David Ginola, Hatem Ben Arfa, Faustino Asprilla – the list is endless. Steve Bruce already possesses the loose cannon to end all loose cannons in Allan Saint-Maximin, but there’s always space for another.
The Magpies’ recent purchases have struggled to settle in, with record signing Joelinton having a pretty torrid time and Miguel Almiron looking like he’s never seen a football before. Basically, there’s space for a Mario in there.
Balotelli enjoyed the cult status he achieved at Nice, and if he can get himself firing once more, then the Toon Army would welcome him with open arms.
Crystal Palace need goals. Balotelli needs a loving home. This could be the perfect match. The Palace faithful are just that – faithful towards their players, provided they get effort and endeavour in return.
The Eagles haven’t even chased Christian Benteke out of town yet, who has failed to score in his last 546 matches for the club (or something along those lines).
People may question Balotelli’s work-rate, but the Italian star really put in the hard-yards when picked for Brescia, as he felt he had something to prove to his doubters.
The talented forward still has plenty to prove, and a return to the Premier League could be the ideal move for both parties.