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.

Arsenal reportedly set for $69 million double Friday buy

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lucas Perez of RC Deportivo la Coruna reacts during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Teresa Rivero on September 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger‘s much-maligned transfer business is about to take the “much” off the verb.

Lucas Perez of Deportiva de la Coruna is reportedly going to be joining Arsenal on Friday, and the Gunners are also close to finally landing Valencia center back Shkodran Mustafi.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Perez, 27, broke out for a career-best 17 goals last season, and scored on debut last weekend. He’s set to cost $22.5 million, while Mustafi makes up the other $46.5 million.

The 12-times capped German center back stands 6-foot, and would bring stability to a Gunners unit which has (again) been beset by injuries.

From the BBC:

Spaniard Lucas, 27, scored 17 goals in 37 games last season and Arsenal will meet a 20m euro (£17.1m) buyout clause.

Germany international Mustafi, 24, is set to join for a fee in excess of £35m.

Is this, coupled with the Granit Xhaka buy, enough to help Wenger right the ship? Mustafi, especially, would be a key piece. Perez is a bit of a lesser-known quality.

MLS Weekend Preview: Desperation mounts as rivals meet in Oregon

Portland Timbers defender Vytas Andriuskevicius, second from right, trips up Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, right, in the second half of a MLS soccer match, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, in Seattle. Andriuskevicius was called for a foul on the play, and the Sounders' Clint Dempsey scored a goal on the resulting penalty kick. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Leave a comment

Desperation is up-and-down the schedule this weekend in Major League Soccer, as the playoff race really heats up.

The calendar turns to September next week, and teams will end this weekend with a clear view of their runs into the season’s final Sunday: Oct. 23.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

The tumult that is an MLS season means only one team is more than two wins out of a playoff spot right now, and that’s Houston (7 points back of Western No. 6 Portland).

Here’s who is feeling the heat of their matches this weekend:

Portland and Seattle: The Cascadia Cup rivals tangle Sunday in Oregon, with the Timbers holding a one-point edge on the Sounders for the West’s final playoff spot. Seattle has played one fewer games than Portland, and a win on Sunday would be a double-whammy for PDX; The Timbers would be level on points with Seattle and Vancouver in the Cascadia Cup standings with just one match to go (compared to their opponents’ two).

Vancouver: The ‘Caps don’t have a Cup game this weekend, but will face an L.A. team which hasn’t lost at home. Vancouver is in real danger of moving more than one win behind in the fight for a playoff spot. If they lose to L.A. and both San Jose and Portland win, the Whitecaps will be five points back of a playoff spot. Of course, this being MLS, a win and help could see Vancouver in sixth when the smoke clears.

Columbus and New England: No one likes to comment on job status, but Revs’ boss Jay Heaps and his Columbus counterpart (Gregg Berhalter) have to be a bit concerned at this point. New England is a total mess, opening up a goalkeeping controversy, and is pinning its hopes on some Open Cup final karma. The Crew was supposed to contend for a title after last year’s final run, but is currently in the East’s cellar with just three home wins from 13 matches.

Schedule

Friday
Colorado at Real Salt Lake — 8 p.m. EDT

Saturday
Chicago at DC United — 7 p.m. EDT
Sporting KC at Philadelphia — 7 p.m. EDT
San Jose at Columbus — 7:30 p.m. EDT
Montreal at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. EDT
FC Dallas at Houston — 9 p.m. EDT
Vancouver at LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. EDT

Sunday
New England at New York Red Bulls — 2:30 p.m. EDT
Seattle at Portland — 5 p.m. EDT
New York City at Orlando City — 7 p.m. EDT

Season starts Friday, so here is your Bundesliga 2016-17 primer

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 30:  Julian Green #37 of FC Bayern Munich smiles after scoring the last of his three goals against FC Internazionale during an International Champions Cup match at Bank of America Stadium on July 30, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Bundesliga opens another season Friday, and the first question on many minds is simple: Will anyone come close to dethroning Bayern Munich?

Bayern has four-straight Bundesliga titles, giving them a league-best 26 German Championships. And USMNT fans have legit reason to be excited about Julian Green’s season with the Bavarians, as his new coach is interested in seeing the 21-year-old at work.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

But this could be the year for the last team with a different name to win a title, as at least one team has added a load of proven strength.

Let’s dig into Bundesliga 2016-17:

Who went down? Stuttgart and Hannover 96

Only two? Eintracht Frankfurt finished 16th, but beat Nurnberg in the pro/rel playoff.

Who came up? RB Leipzig, Augsburg

New faces to know: Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich), Marc Bartra (Borussia Dortmund), Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund), Aleksandar Dragovic (Bayer Leverkusen), Nabil Bentaleb (Schalke), Baba Rahman (Schalke), Coke (Schalke), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Benjamin Stambouli (Schalke), Jhon Cordoba (Mainz), Allan (Hertha BSC), Jeffrey Bruma (Wolfsburg), Borja Mayoral (Wolfsburg), Alen Halilovic (Hamburg), Florent Hadergjonaj (Ingolstadt), Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg), Takashi Usami (Augsburg), Lamine Sane (Werder Bremen), Alexander Milosevic (Darmstadt), Victor Obinna (Darmstadt), Guillermo Varela (Eintracht Frankfurt), Jesus Vallejo (Eintracht Frankfurt), Michael Hector (Eintracht Frankfurt), Omar Mascarell (Eintracht Frankfurt), Timo Werner (RB Leipzig).

Gone from the league: Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Southampton), Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Ragnar Klavan (Liverpool), Alex Manninger (Liverpool), Dantre (Nice), Lorius Karius (Liverpool), Younes Belhanda (Dynamo Kyiv), Leroy Sane (Manchester City), Joel Matip (Liverpool), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Havard Nordtveit (West Ham), Omar Damari (New York Red Bulls), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew), Carlos Zambrano (Rubin Kazan), Russell Canouse (VfL Bochum), Anthony Ujag (Liaoning Whowin), Gerard Tremmel (Swansea City), Papy Djilobodji (Chelsea), David Yelldell (Sonnenhof Großaspach e.V.)

Old league faces, new league places: Mario Gotze (Borussia Dortmund), Andre Schurrle (Borussia Dortmund), Kevin Volland (Bayer Leverkusen), Christoph Kramer (Gladbach), Naldo (Schalke), Jakub Blaszczykowski (Wolfsburg), Mario Gomez (Wolfsburg), Marco Hoger (Koln), Max Kruse (Werder Bremen), Lukas Rupp (Hoffenheim), Kevin Vogt (Hoffenheim), Sandro Wagner (Hoffenheim),



Americans Abroad: Bobby Wood (Hamburg), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen), Fabian Johnson (Monchengladbach), Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Terrence Boyd (RB Leipzig), Ken Gipson? (RB Leipzig).

We’re at the point where the United States could put together a halfway decent XI from Bundesliga sides if a goalkeeper and second center back hit the scene.

Yeah, but which ones will factor? Every name on that list should have an opportunity to make an impact this season, not just club stars like Johnson, Brooks, and Morales.

Who scores the most goals between Wood, Pulisic, Johannsson, Green, and Boyd? We’ll let you answer that in the comments.

Why the question mark next to Gipson? The 20-year-old right back has U.S. citizenship, but is a German.

Why will Bayern win? The giants also have a new coach in Carlo Ancelotti, and minimal roster tumult. As usual, though, they’ve added superstars to replace superstars. Gone are Mario Gotze and Mehdi Benatia, and arriving are Mats Hummels and Renato Sanches. Bayern won the league by 10 points last season, and it’s hard to imagine someone closing that big of a gap.

Make me a case they don’t: That’s easy. Borussia Dortmund. Thomas Tuchel’s bunch have brought back Gotze from Bayern, added Andre Schurrle from Wolfsburg, Marc Bartra from Barcelona and Rennes dynamo Ousmane Dembele. After a horrific start to last season, BVB played as well as anyone in the second half. Maybe they do it for a whole season.

Who else could thrive? Schalke has made some significant additions in the wake of selling Leroy Sane to Manchester City, and Olympic hero Max Meyer could be primed to take the next step in his career. Wolfsburg has added some big names like Borja Mayoral, Jakub Blaszczykowski, and Jeffrey Bruma, and Borussia Monchengladbach could be good again if it can deal with the loss of Granit Xhaka to Arsenal. Don’t sleep on Bayer, either.

Report: French outfit Nice interested in adding Liverpool’s Balotelli

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 14:  Mario Balotelli of AC Milan looks on during the Serie A match between AC Milan and AS Roma at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 14, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mario Balotelli could soon have a new home, according to the BBC’s Phil McNulty.

The mercurial Italian striker, 26, has one league goal in each of his last two seasons (spent between Liverpool and AC Milan).

Jurgen Klopp is ready for Balotelli to find a home away from Anfield and McNulty says that place could be OGC Nice, where he’d join newly-signed ex-Bayern man Dante. Balotelli also had talks with Sion in Switzerland, according to the report.

The striker was a blazing hot commodity after scoring 17 goals for Manchester City in 2011-12, and again after netting 18 for AC Milan in 2013-14.

Balotelli has 13 goals in 33 caps for Italy, but hasn’t appeared for the national team since 2014.