Since his move back to the peninsula, there has been much talk about Mario Balotelli's potential impact on promoted side Brescia and in the bigger picture of making a comeback for the Azzurri, however, as things stand now, there is much to do.
SuperMario arrived in the Lombardy city to much fanfare back in mid-August, so much so that his press conference was delayed by an hour, due to all the fans who lined the streets of the city. So far, the former Inter, Manchester City, Nice and Olympique Marseille striker hasn’t made nearly as much impact on the pitch.
The 29-year old considers Brescia his home, as despite being born in Palermo, he moved in with his adoptive family at the age of just two. His start to life with the promoted side has been steady , but not spectacular, with just a solitary goal to his name in four matches.
In fairness to the man who has won every major honour in the club game, he has had to bide his time, as he was suspended for the first four matches of the Serie A season, a holdover from his time in Ligue 1. His debut game came against the juggernaut of Juventus, as the defending champions paid a visit to the Stadio Mario Rigamonti. Balotelli started up front with last season's top scorer from Serie B Alfredo Donnarumma and linked with the man from Campania well enough a few times, hitting a rasping free-kick that whistled just over the bar, but despite a valiant effort, they succumbed to a one goal defeat.
His second game with Le Leonessa came away at Napoli in an encounter in which they were thoroughly dominated by the home side, but as a consolation, Balotelli did get his only goal here. With his team losing 0-2, he powered a header past a hapless Davide Ospina in the Napoli goal from a corner. It had been hoped that the son of Ghanaian immigrants would go from strength to strength after registering his name in the Brescia history books, but that has not been the case.
His next two matches saw him came off the bench versus Fiorentina following a knee problem and play from the start away at Genoa, neither of which showed the type of form that won him many admirers in his youth. Examples include a double in just his second game for Inter in a Derby d’Italia Coppa Italia fixture back in 2007, the pass to Sergio Aguero for the winning goal as Manchester City won the Premier League title at the death in 2012, or his fantastic 12 goals in 13 appearances for Milan in 2013.
The fact is, Balotelli is not a ‘youth’ or ‘player with potential’ anymore. He is a fully-grown adult that needs to take this opportunity afforded to him by Brescia. It is vitally important right now, as the club made famous by players such as Georghe Hagi, Roberto Baggio, Pep Guardiola etc... now find themselves in the relegation zone. Being a promoted side is tough under any circumstances and Balotelli was brought in to add his experience, knowledge of winning and leadership qualities to the side that has been out of Serie A for several years.
They need more from Mario.
Any hopes, and let's be frank, they are slim right now, of him being recalled to the Italian national team with Euro 2020 on the horizon, require a massive effort from Balotelli. The Azzurri have made remarkable progress in the 18 months under Roberto Mancini, with a new style of football based on possession, players who are highly technical and a mostly young team, who are hungry for success. They stormed to Euro 2020 qualification with a perfect record of eight victories from their eight matches, scoring 25 goals (remember it was not so long ago they could not score against Sweden in two games) and have allowed just three at the back. This version of Italy has fans excited, so where can Balotelli fit in at the moment?
We all remember his Euro 2012 performances, most notably a double in the semi-final versus rivals Germany and his game winning goal at the World Cup in Brazil against England, but Italy have moved on since then. The likes of Andrea Belotti, Ciro Immobile (including the criticism), Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and most recently Stephan El Shaarawy have all contributed up front for the national team. The team has a chemistry and it would take something extraordinary for Mancini to change the set up.
Balotelli’s performances for Brescia so far have been anything but extraordinary. It was easy to forget he was even playing against Genoa until he was substituted and kicked a pitch-side camera. Tonight, he gets the chance to face Inter in a high-profile match, hoping to recapture some of the excitement and promise he had in that Nerazzurri jersey.