Always controversial, never boring. Mario Balotelli’s season has, once more, confirmed the football world’s opinion of him: though an extremely gifted young man, he has also flirted dangerously with Cesare Prandelli’s ethical code (not to mention poor Roberto Mancini’s nerves) on a number of occasions, making it into Italy’s squad despite the end-of-season shenanigans which, at one stage, seemed to have left Manchester City no option but to sell him on.
Now, with the Euros fast approaching, the Azzurri are looking for a player to make up for the absence of a traditional striker up front. Though the returning Antonio di Natale looks well placed to fill that role, Balotelli could still slot in alongside Antonio Cassano in an aggressive 4-3-2-1, or as a second striker in a 4-3-1-2.
Either way, the young Citizen’s precision and physique wouldn’t merely offer his team-mates a good foil to their passing play, but also a good alternative to it against packed defences.
Ultimately, Balotelli’s chances of top-scoring at the Euros may be spoiled by his manager’s tactical choices.
With 13 Premier League goals this season, Balotelli certainly justifies the odds of 22/1 bwin have him at to top the goalscorer charts. With a knack for important goals (just ask Manchester United, Chelsea or Spurs for confirmation), the Italian striker could be his country’s go-to guy this summer, and turn out to be wonderful investment for those of you who feel like chancing your hands.
Then again, Super Mario’s poor discipline may explain why that 22/1 quote isn’t lower: many punters may fear that he hasn’t quite turned a corner yet, and that those three red cards he’s picked up over the past two seasons may return to haunt him.
The trouble is that Balotelli’s immeasurable talent seems to be irrevocably interwoven with this rebellious streak, making him as likely to net a brace against Spain on June 10th as he is of picking up a red card for a sudden, unpredictable outburst five minutes later.
This makes him a liability not only to his team, but also to the punters who have backed Italy to go all the way. Though red cards never come at a “right” time, Balotelli’s timing is certainly very poor. Both his red cards this season have come when City needed to score points off big teams to keep their title dreams alive: with Arsenal 1-0 up at the Emirates in April, Balotelli’s childish behaviour saw him sent off in the 90th minute.
Though his tussle with Bacary Sagna seemed to be have been the last straw for Mancini, it was Balotelli’s sending off at Anfield in late November which should have attracted the most ridicule, as the Italian waltzed onto the pitch with a quarter of an hour to go – only for him to be given his marching orders six minutes later for two yellow cards.
Ultimately, Balotelli’s chances of top-scoring at the Euros may be spoiled by his manager’s tactical choices: in all likelihood, Super Mario will frequently have to drop back to create the play, rather than wait for the right moment to pounce, as Filippo Inzaghi would have done.
Though Balotelli will probably get in the goals himself at one stage or another, Prandelli’s choice not to call up a “pure” striker boils down to Giuseppe Rossi’s absence. With the Villarreal genie out of the fold through injury, Prandelli will count on everyone to chip in with the goals, and not a specific striker.
This quality was inherent in Italy’s 2006 squad – with players like Fabio Grosso and Marco Materazzi netting crucial goals – as well as in the Azzurri’s qualifying bid: though Antonio Cassano got six in total, four of Italy’s goals came from midfield, with Thiago Motta scoring in Slovenia, Claudio Marchisio doing the damage in Belgrade, and the Riccardo Montolivo/Alberto Aquilani pairing seeing off Spain in a friendly in Bari.
The Azzurri’s football will see them build a series of intricate passing moves from the midfield, with any one of a number of talented players likely to make the breakthrough and pull the trigger.
One such player is also interestingly priced to top the goalscorer rankings: Antonio Cassano enjoyed a brilliant European Championship in 2004, and was the life and soul of Giovanni Trapattoni’s side.
Having top scored for Italy for Euro 2012 with six in qualifying, he may well be worth a punt at 40/1.
This would be the perfect fairytale ending for the bad boy whose attempts at mending his ways were nearly aborted by the cerebral damage he suffered in Rome last October.
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