It’s transfer season, and as such the papers are filled with the obligatory rhetoric about players being ‘tracked’ or ‘scouted’ by clubs who are either ‘on red alert’ or ‘preparing a bid’. We all know how this works and we’ve all developed a tolerance to it; it’s a pantomime, and generally speaking it’s really not worth your attention.
A rumour which keeps surfacing, however, is the one linking Mario Balotelli with a move back to England and to Arsenal. It seems to make some sense - Balotelli has previous in the Premier League, he plays a position which Arsene Wenger desperately needs to strengthen, and AC Milan are more than willing to let him go.
Maybe it keeps resurfacing for digital revenue reasons, but maybe - just maybe - there’s some substance behind this tall tale and Arsenal really are ready to roll the dice on the Italian. For entertainment purposes, let’s assume the North London side do hold an interest - and if so… sound the ‘bad transfer’ klaxon, lock-up the chequebook, and step away from the negotiating table.
There are three key prospective problems here: the player’s personality, his style of play, and his lack of suitability to the current Arsenal side.
The obvious point first: Mario Balotelli is an enormous psychological liability.
It’s cliched to refer to him as an enigma, but that’s really just a flattering description of a sulky player; the Italian is talented - of that there is no question - but his ability remains theoretical. His measurable qualities should cumulatively amount to a world-class forward, but a glass-ceiling has - and always will - limit his development. He’s an icon of football’s age of entitlement and a brooding, selfish player who exists outside the boundaries of a team’s structure.
Give him tactical instructions, ask him to perform in a certain way…it doesn’t matter, because he plays how he wants to play and evidently believes that his reputation validates him in doing that.
When he left Manchester City, it was very revealing that AC Milan were the more illustrious side willing to take a risk on him. True, Balotelli is actually a Milan supporter, but the Rossoneri have spent the latter portion of the last decade being a disgrace to their own reputation. In European football terms, they are a has-been side who are propped-up by the memory of Savicevic, Weah, Maldini and Baresi.
Balotelli has the talent to play for a Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Bayern Munich, but his risk/reward ratio is so lopsided that he wasn’t considered a viable option by any team within the bracket. He’s a problem, and even during an age of the game in which ability eclipses all personal flaws, none of the teams challenging for major domestic or continental honours were willing to touch him.
Everywhere has seen Balotelli produce moments of brilliance and, during his time at San Siro, he has a very favourable goals-to-games record but, with him, every game-changing moment comes at the price of long spells of tangible indifference and huge frustration. He shoots from foolish positions, he plays ludicrously low-percentage passes, and his objectives seem continually based around self-glorification rather the team success.
If you were Arsene Wenger, is that a package that you would happily spend £20-£30m on?
Arsenal are trying to challenge for the Premier League title, and to do that they really need to identify their weaknesses. In no particular order, they require a new right-back, a significant addition or two in midfield, and an upgrade on Olivier Giroud. In addition to which, the squad as a whole desperately needs to embrace a new attitude - they need to not only become consistent winners, but they need to develop a resilience when faced with adversity. They need characters who aren’t intimidated by Stamford Bridge, Anfield, or The Etihad, and they players who are all-in for the cause.
Does Mario Balotelli tick any of those boxes? Is he the kind of player who, when faced with a two-goal deficit against Chelsea, would figuratively run through a brick wall for his side or is he someone who would lose interest and start thinking about how he’s going disconnect the smoke alarms for some firework fun later that evening?
There’s a stylistic problem here, too. Arsenal’s advanced midfield is gifted, but its collective effectiveness is predicated on having players in front of them who are able to create passing options in space - Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil…to thrive, those kind of ball-players need pace around them in wide areas, but also a forward in front of them who is willing to peel off into the channels and make the kind of runs which create space for his teammates.
Again, nowhere in the answer to that issue will you find Mario Balotelli’s name.
The point here is not to trash Balotelli, even if this article has done just that, but to illustrate what a misallocation of resources Arsenal buying him would represent. Beyond all the personal issues, his playing style is fundamentally unsuited to what Arsenal need - elite goal-scorers aren’t made from a jelly mould, they come in all different shapes and sizes and are equipped with a range of traits and attributes which make them suited to certain sides.
Arsenal don’t just need ‘a forward’, they need the right kind of forward.
It’s a hard ‘no’ on Balotelli, Arsene, don’t do it.
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