Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrat

Mario Balotelli to Milan: Where whimsy may finally meet greatness

1 Comment

Mario is leaving Manchester, if AC Milan’s to be believed. The whimsical Manchester City striker, brought to Eastlands two and a half years ago, is on his way to Milan ahead of a Wednesday physical. If passed, the exam will be the last step before a return home. For a $31.5 million fee (that could climb after performances bonuses), the Rossoneri will get the 22-year-old Italian international on a deal that’s said to run until 2017.

One of the most talented strikers in the world, Balotelli gave the world a glimpse of his game-defining potential with two Euro 2012 semifinal goals that led Italy to an upset victory of pre-tournament co-favorites Germany. In 75 appearances for Manchester City, the versatile striker has scored 30 all-competition goals, including 17 in 35 games last season. Bought from Inter Milan for $30 million in the summer of 2010, Balotelli has been a productive if mercurial presence for the English champions.

(MORE: Mario Balotelli’s top moments of madness)

It’s a label Balotelli’s earned off the field and on, his three years in Manchester having affirmed one of the more notorious reputations in world soccer. While most who’ve covered him closely describe a mischievous and mostly harmless character, the list of high-profile incidents linked to Sicily-born attacker have endowed him with a comical fame. Perhaps the most emblematic incident came in October 2011 when Balotelli set his house on fire after igniting fireworks in a bathroom. In a game the next day, Balotelli celebrated a goal by lifting his jersey to reveal a t-shirt which read “why always me?” – a reference to the media attention he attracts. Balotelli later became a firework safety ambassador for Great Manchester.

source:  Among other famous anecdotes, Balotelli crashed a car soon after his Manchester arrival only to be found with near-$8,000 in cash on him when police came to investigate the incident. He was photographed in the company of Mafia members during his first spell in Italy, and out of curiosity, he has made unsolicited visits to prisons. Closer to the field, Balotelli’s immense talents have been mitigated by confrontations with coaches, brow-furrowing behavior like the ball heel shot that saw him pulled from a preseason game in Los Angeles, and a series of training ground fights with teammates, including captain Vincent Kompany.

Amid whimsy and volatility is a player who possesses an elite array of talents – the type of gifts that lead clubs like City and Milan to pay transfer fees that would be the records for near-every club in the world. His supreme technical skills endow him with an enviable first touch, one which, combined with his 6’2″ frame, allows him to play as a target forward. But his speed and athleticism have seen him spend time in wide positions, with a brilliant ball-striking ability making him a threat from distance in open play as well as from dead balls. There is a reason why people like Italy coach Cesare Prandelli and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini continue to find room in their teams for “Super Mario.”

His tendency to constantly defy his antics and win back playing time is something that’s frustrated critics who decry Balotelli’s fickle antics. Having already put in five-and-a-half seasons between Internazionale and City, many understandably see the talented striker as a seasoned if still maturing player. How many 22-year-olds are professional soccer players? (A lot.) And how many leverage their talent for such selfish pursuits? (One.) Well-compensated by the deal that took him to Manchester, it’s not unfair for onlookers — particularly, City fans — to expect more from somebody for whom greatness is only a mental tweak away.

source: Getty ImagesIt bears reminding that not all 22-year-olds are created the same. Balotelli’s past is one of relative turmoil. An impoverished family of Ghanian immigrants burdened by medical bills from Balotelli’s early childhood health problems gave him up to foster care when he was two years old. The biological family eventually faded out of his life, leaving a Sicilian-born foster child of African descent to be raised by a Jewish-Italian foster family in Brescia. For many familiar with Balotelli’s story, the player’s personality reflects a type of extended adolescence born of early childhood uncertainties.

Now Balotelli is Massimiliano Allegri’s pleasure and problem – the newest piece of what could be an incredibly dynamic if but maturing attack. Twenty-year-old Stephan El Shaarawy has been the Italian season’s breakout star, his 15 goals from mostly a wide-left position trailing only Napoli’s Edinson Cavani for the league’s lead. On the right, 18-year-old M’Baye Niang has seen more time of late, though the summer acquisition from Caen has yet to notch his first Serie A goal. Together, the trio gives Allegri a collection of players who will be among the most fearsome one-on-one talents in the league, their speed and athleticism allowing the Rossoneri to attack with defense-collapsing talents from all angles.

In reality, a player like Bojan Krkic will likely need to be mixed in to provide a more creative presence in possession. And Milan also have Giampaolo Pazzini and (for now) Robinho in the squad. For a team the cleared their shelves of talent this offseason, Milan suddenly have an enviable collection of quality attackers, even if the best of them are still 22 or younger.

All of them are going to be overshadowed by Balotelli now. Having transcended pop curiosity to semi-national hero this summer, Balotelli becomes the preeminent figure in the team, if not the league. If Allegri gets more out of a player who’s rejoining the club he supported in his youth, $31.5 million will prove a reasonable price for somebody so talented. And it’s a move that always seemed inevitable when

Whether this move sees Balotelli fulfill his potential, well, that’s not up to Allegri. When Mario decides to be great, he’ll be great.

STREAM: Arsenal-Boro, Swans-Watford, every 10am ET game

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Mesut Ozil of Arsenal (C) celebrates scoring his sides third goal with his team mates  during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Six games take center stage at 10 a.m. ET in the Premier League on Saturday, with both north London clubs in action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Red-hot Arsenal host Middlesbrough at the Emirates Stadium, while Swansea City welcome Watford as Bob Bradley manages his first home game in the Premier League. Leicester City and Crystal Palace do battle, while Everton head to Burnley, Stoke go to Hull and West Ham host struggling Sunderland.

You can stream each game live by clicking on the links below or above.

10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Sunderland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Stoke City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Everton – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Bournemouth 0-0 Tottenham: Spurs stay unbeaten

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: Adam Smith of AFC Bournemouth (L) blocks Erik Lamela of Tottenham Hotspur (R) shot during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Spurs remain unbeaten
  • Bournemouth impress
  • Wilshere plays 90 minutes
  • Surman, Stanislas injured before game

Tottenham Hotspur remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League as they drew 0-0 at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium on Saturday.

Both teams hit the woodwork in the first half with Charlie Daniels going close for Bournemouth and Erik Lamela clipping the post for Spurs.

Bournemouth’s high-energy approach halted Spurs’ usual fluidity as an intense game played out in the autumnal sun on the south coast.

With the point Spurs momentarily moved joint-top of the PL on 19 points, while Bournemouth on 12 points as they’re now four games unbeaten.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Bournemouth started very brightly and after six minutes they hit the woodwork. A short corner found Dan Gosling and his pull back found Daniels but the former Spurs’ player saw his shot deflected onto the bar brilliantly by Hugo Lloris. The Cherries continued to push and Callum Wilson was looking lively on the break.

Then Spurs hit the woodwork as a magnificent double nutmeg from Dele Alli in the middle of the pitch set up Lamela and the Argentine struck the post with an audacious long-range effort.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Spurs grew into the game as the half wore on and Bournemouth’s intense pressure subsided a little, and Christian Eriksen‘s deflected effort was well saved by Artur Boruc at his near post. A flurry of yellow cards then emerged

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

At the start of the second half Lamela fired over the bar at the near post as Spurs looked the more dangerous. Vincent Janssen replaced Son on the hour mark as Tottenham tried something different in order to break down a stubborn Bournemouth back line.

Boruc denied Danny Rose and try as they might Spurs failed to break through the Cherries rearguard, which saw Jack Wilshre (playing his first 90 minutes for over two years) trying to create as much as possible in midfield.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

In the dying stages it was Bournemouth who looked more likely to score but Benik Afobe headed just over as the Cherries’ final flourish didn’t yield a winning goal.


STREAM: Watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10am ET

NBC Sports
Leave a comment

At 10 a.m. ET this Saturday you will be able to access NBC Sports Digital’s Premier League Goal Rush.

It will be available on the NBC Sports App, on and on a dedicated Premier League Extratime channel as goals from all four matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be shown simultaneously as live look-ins occur around all the grounds in the Premier League.


For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of NFL RedZone-like action from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

The feature game this weekend will be Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough and as goals and incidents occur around the league, you will be transported to the action as it happens.

More info is available here, plus the schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below.

10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace
10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Stoke City
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Sunderland
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Everton

China hires Lippi to take over national football team

FLORENCE, ITALY - MAY 29:  Marcello Lippi attends a training session at Coverciano on May 29, 2014 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

BEIJING (AP) China has hired World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi to head its national football team.

China’s football association on Saturday formally announced the hiring of the 68-year-old Lippi, who guided Italy to the 2006 World Cup title.

It’s the latest move by China in a national push to become more competitive in soccer. Under President Xi Jinping, a fan of the sport, China has set the goal of becoming a soccer superpower but its foray into football has so far been a failure. The men’s national team has qualified for just one World Cup, in 2002, and did not score a single goal.

Lippi replaces Gao Hongbo, who resigned after China’s Oct. 11 loss to Uzbekistan.