Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrat

Mario Balotelli to Milan: Where whimsy may finally meet greatness

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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.

Three things we learned from Leicester City vs. Man United

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Leicester City drew 1-1 with Manchester United on Saturday in a game dominated by one man: Jamie Vardy.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Vardy ]

He set a new record and the King Power Stadium erupted, while United and Leicester battled it out in a fair draw.

[ MORE: PL Saturday roundup ]

Here’s three things we learned from the KP.


He did it. Heading into this game all the talk was about Vardy and if the 28-year-old could set a new PL record of scoring in 11 consecutive games. Well, he did.

From Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town, Fleetwood Town and now Leicester City, Vardy has always scored goals but the one he scored against Manchester United on Saturday has placed him in the record books. Reacting to the feat live on Sky Sports after the game, Vardy rolled out the cliches but showed a little bit of emotion.

“I am obviously delighted but the main thing was the performance,” Vardy said. “I think we put a really good shift in today and a point was a fair result. We have a lot of pace in the team and counter attacking is a big advantage for us. We have come straight from a corner. It was unbelievable. I think I got a bit carried away with myself!”

When asked afterwards what he was shouting when wheeling away in celebration, Vardy said “I can’t repeat it to be honest with you” and then elaborated on what it has been like this week with the pressure on his shoulders.

“Obviously if I let it get to me then it will effect my performance so I’ve just been keeping my head down and not let it sink in my head and just concentrate on it and that it was just another game we wanted to get three points in,” Vardy added.

The next record for Vardy to break is from the 1931-32 English top-flight season. Before the PL was formed Sheffield United’s Jimmy Dunne scored in 12-straight games. Let’s see if Vardy can continue this incredible run when Leicester face Swansea City next Saturday, but all that matters right now is that he holds the record in the PL and has come from absolutely nowhere to do something no other player has done in PL history. Remarkable. Memorable. Magnificent.


Right on the stroke of half time the atmosphere fell a little flat at the KP as Bastian Schweinsteiger headed home to make it 1-1. After the euphoria of Vardy giving United the lead, the away side battled back against the home crowd and were able to dig deep to get on level terms. For the second week running in the PL they went on the road and ground out a result. Of course Louis Van Gaal‘s side would’ve preferred a win but as the game wore on they looked the more likely to win as Memphis flashed a shot over and Matteo Darmian smashed an effort inches over in stoppage time.

At the back Chris Smalling marshaled a three-man central defensive unit impressively — apart from Vardy’s goal where Ashley Young and Darmian let him get ghost in-behind too easily — but David De Gea was still forced into a great save from Leonardo Ulloa in the 66th minute when the Leicester forward should’ve scored. Once again United flattered to deceive in the final third and that will be a worry for LVG, but they showed grit and determination to gain a point on the road at high-flying Leicester. It is tough to break down United and they say all championships are won with a great defense but the lack of creative flair up front is concerning.


One of the main reasons why that flair wasn’t there, once again, was that Wayne Rooney had another game to forget. United’s captain and talisman started off in a central striking role with Anthony Martial but often in the first half he was dropping deep on the left to pick up the ball and although he sprayed a few nice passes out wide there was no swagger, verve or conviction in his actions. This is a player who captains his country, has been in the PL for over a decade and will break many records by the time his career comes to an end. Right now though, it’s hard to see how Rooney keeps being selected for club and country.

Rooney, 30, is in a slump. He’s scored just twice in 12 Premier League outings this season and when he was substituted in the 68th minute on Saturday, it backed up the recent quotes from LVG stating that his skipper is not a guaranteed starter. It’s not just Rooney that is lacking flair but United in general look lackluster when they have possession and make it too easy for opponents to get back into their shape and defend with 10-men behind the ball.

Playing Rooney as a striker or in the hole hasn’t worked for LVG this season. Is it time he stopped playing him altogether?

Premier League roundup: Man City, Leicester level on points; Magpies into drop zone

during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Leicester, England.
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A lot of the big guns are playing on Sunday, but that didn’t stop Saturday’s Premier League action from bringing us a mix of history and unlikelihood.

[ WATCH: USMNT’s Johnson scores brace in Bundesliga play ]

Leicester’s star striker broke a Premier League record, and the Foxes are still tied for the most points in the league, behind on Man City on goal differential. Manchester United failed in its quest to reclaim the PL lead, while Newcastle United fell into the drop zone.

That and more, below…

Leicester City 1-1 Manchester UnitedRECAP

Jamie Vardy stands alone as the model of Premier League goal-scoring consistency (at least in one run). The Leicester City man scored early to give him goals in 11-straight games, breaking the record he shared with Ruud van Nistelrooy. Bastian Schweinsteiger found the equalizer for United before the second half drifted into Snooze City. Leicester remains level on points with Man City, while United is a point behind the leaders.

Crystal Palace 5-1 Newcastle United — RECAP

The Magpies are back in the drop zone after an embarrassing display against old boss Alan Pardew at Selhurst Park. Yannick Bolasie and James McArthur each scored twice for the Eagles, who climbed to sixth with the win. Wilfried Zaha also scored in the win.

Sunderland 2-0 Stoke City — RECAP

Ryan Shawcross had the Potters playing a man down for nearly the entire second half, and Sam Allardyce‘s Black Cats now have picked up two wins versus shorthanded sides after Patrick Van Aanholt and Duncan Watmore scored to pull Sunderland out of the relegation zone.

SWANSEA, WALES - NOVEMBER 21: Bournemouth player Junior Stanislas in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Liberty Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Bournemouth 3-3 Everton — RECAP

Junior Stanislas‘ day to remember likely made an indelible imprint on the Dean Court crowd, as Bournemouth came back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits against high-flying Everton. The Toffees led by two at the break before Andy Smith and Stanislas equalized by the 87th minute. Ross Barkley‘s 95th minute goal caused a delay as Everton fans flooded the pitch, and Stanislas made them pay in the eighth minute of stoppage. Madness. Wonderful madness.

Southampton 1-3 Manchester CityRECAP

St. Mary’s was the scene for Man City’s rise back to the top of the table. Aleksandar Kolarov, Kevin De Bruyne and Fabian Delph scored for the leaders, while Shane Long netted Saints’ only goal. Southampton drops to ninth, behind Everton and Palace.

Aston Villa 2-3 WatfordRECAP

The Hornets survived a brief scare from the Villans to pick up three points on the road and rise to 11th on the table. Odion Ighalo scored early before Micah Richards even things up just before halftime. An Alan Hutton own goal restored Watford’s advantage, and Troy Deeney gave them breathing room in the 85th minute. Jordan Ayew pulled Villa to within one in the 89th minute, but it was not to be for Remi Garde’s crew. Villa sits last with a mere five points through 14 games.

Leicester City 1-1 Manchester United: Vardy makes history

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  • Vardy breaks Van Nistelrooy’s record
  • Schweinsteiger finds equalizer
  • De Gea, Schmeichel stand tall in second half

The top-end tilt between Leicester City and Manchester United lived up to its billing for 45 minutes before petering out in a 1-1 draw at King Power Stadium.

That won’t change the enduring memory of the match for the Leicester City faithful, as Jamie Vardy made Premier League history by scoring in his 11th-consecutive game to break United legend Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record.

Leicester is level on points with first-place Manchester City, but behind on goal differential. United is a point off the pace, in third.

[ WATCH: Vardy’s record-setting goal ]

Vardy’s took a tidy touch before belting a low shot past David De Gea‘s right leg, sending the King Power Stadium crowd into a state of euphoria with a 1-0 lead against the PL powers.

Schweinsteiger leveled things before halftime, powering in a corner from Daley Blind.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Vardy ]

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]  

United should’ve gone up off an Ashley Young free kick in the 49th minute. Schweinsteiger forced Kasper Schmeichel into a save, and Wayne Rooney headed a begging rebound wide of the goal.

Leicester had its chance to go up denied by a fine point-blank save by De Gea, as Leonardo Ulloa was denied by the Spaniard.

The case against McClaren: Should Newcastle United make a change?

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Steve McClaren manager of Newcastle United scratches his head  during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Newcastle United at Selhurst Park on November 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Newcastle United’s supporters have earned the descriptor “always-proud” over the years, but it’s front office has dipped into “once-proud” category with a series of embarrassing seasons.

And that’s what makes it so tricky to decide whether new boss Steve McClaren deserves the sack after just 14 games in charge of the Northeast side.

[ MATCH RECAP: Crystal Palace 5-1 Newcastle United ]

Despite embattled owner Mike Ashley opening his purse strings this summer — adding Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba — McClaren has posted a 2W-4D-8L start to life in the Premier League. The wins have come against new boys Norwich City and Bournemouth, and McClaren has seen his team dispatched from the League Cup by a Championship side.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Steve McClaren manager of Newcastle United leaves the pitch after his team's 1-5 defeat in the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Newcastle United at Selhurst Park on November 28, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

The 54-year-old earned a shot back at the top largely on the merits of his apprenticeship under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and an Eredivisie crown with Twente in 2009.

After poor, short spells at Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest, McClaren helped his star rise with Derby County from 2013-15. But he never was able to push the club over the top, fading down the stretch last season.

The Premier League is a win-now entity, and Newcastle is well behind the pace of its top-flight brethren. It’s defending is miserable, and the club has no answers for teams that attack with vigor (See the five goals allowed to Sergio Aguero, last week’s 3-0 loss to Leicester City and today’s embarrassment against former boss Alan Pardew).

[ PARDEW: I don’t want to talk poorly about Newcastle ]

Even former NUFC outcast Luuk De Jong, who failed on Tyneside but is revitalized in Holland, is throwing shade at his brother Siem’s side.

Back in the relegation zone, Newcastle has to enter crisis mode after this aimless run through a span of fixtures that demanding points. Yes, they dominated at Sunderland and lost on an unearned red card, but the Magpies also beat Bournemouth despite getting thoroughly out-classed.

With Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton in three of the Magpies’ next four matches — and raise your hand if you think McClaren will out-manage Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp or Roberto Martinez — Newcastle needs to plan for two relegation scraps against Aston Villa and West Brom.

Now could be time to put a caretaker manager into the fray, and find someone who’s helmed a proper relegation fight in the Premier League. Because when even Sam Allardyce is finding points from a substandard group of players at Sunderland, your rival, it’s hard to imagine this can look much worse.

But going back to years of selling their best players — Yohan Cabaye, Andy Carroll, Demba Ba — and letting second-rate (and worse) managers languish in charge, can it really be put on McClaren? That’s the question Ashley has to ask.

Given their schedule, Newcastle has little chance to be out of the relegation battle come New Year’s Day. So who do the Magpies want leading them out come 2016?