might be the most galvanizing player in modern soccer, on a spectrum from brilliant to bonehead both on and off the pitch. One of his former managers, Jose Mourinho, once called him “uncoachable” based on their time together at Inter Milan. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers disagrees, and has just spent £16 million of his transfer budget to bring Balotelli to Anfield. In the spirit of optimism (or perhaps unconditional love), here are 10 career highlights showing why Balotelli is deemed worth the risk.
1. Nov. 8, 2007: Two goals as a teenager
Inter’s youthful Primavera squad travelled to Sheffield to help the world’s oldest football club, Sheffield F.C., celebrate its 150th anniversary with a friendly, and it turned out to be a coming out party for the 17-year-old Balotelli. He scored two goals against Sheffield in that match, a prelude to working his way into Inter’s first team.
2. Aug. 24, 2008: Supercoppa Supersub
In the Supercoppa Italiana, Balotelli saved the reigning Serie A champions by coming into the match as a second-half sub, scoring the apparent game-winning goal with seven minutes left in regulation, and then, after Roma tied the match in the 90th minute, slotted home one of the penalty kicks in a 6-5 nailbiter that went Inter’s way.
3. Nov. 5, 2008: Youngest player to score in the Champions League
Balotelli scored the opening goal for Inter in a Champions League match against Cypriot team Anothorsis Famagusta, making him the youngest player to score in a Champions League match, at 18 years and 85 days old. The goal turned out to be more crucial than it probably should have been – Inter needed a late goal from substitute Julio Cruz to salvage a 3-3 tie and keep their group campaign alive. (Though they’d eventually be bounced by Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United in the Round of 16 that year.)
4. Dec. 21, 2010: Europe’s Golden Boy
In his first season at Manchester City, Balotelli won the Golden Boy Award, given to the best under-21 player in a top European league, as determined by journalists from Europe’s most soccer-savvy publications. Mario showed up with a number of eyebrow-raising quotes, as he claimed to had never heard of fellow finalist Jack Wilshere, and asserted that of all the previous Golden Boy winners, only Lionel Messi was better than him. (Which was certainly news to Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas, and Wayne Rooney.)
5. Dec. 28, 2010: First hat trick
A week after winning the Golden Boy, he made a case for his audacious post-award quotes by netting his first hat trick, in City’s 4-0 rout of Aston Villa. That was the high-water mark in a season where he scored 10 goals in 28 appearances, continuing what would be a string of four straight seasons in double digits.
6. May 14, 2011: FA Cup winner
won its first trophy in 35 years, beating Stoke 1-0 in the FA Cup Final with a 74th minute goal by Yaya Toure — but it was Balotelli who earned Man of the Match honors. Despite his post-match perhaps-too-candid assertion that “All season, I have been shit,” Balotelli was electric throughout the match, leading runs into Stoke’s final third and troubling Stoke goalie Thomas Sorensen the entire match.
7. May 13, 2012: Title-winning assist
If you saw this match, you’ll never forget it. On the Premier League’s final day of action, Manchester United had apparently won the title by beating Sunderland 1-0, while City headed into extra time improbably down 2-1 to ten-man QPR. While United fans were still celebrating, Edin Dzeko tied the match, and then, in its dying moments, Balotelli beautifully assisted Aguero on the match-winning, title-winning goal.
8. June 28, 2012: Muscles!
In the Euro 2012 semi-finals against favored Germany, Balotelli only held the ball for 21 seconds, but made that time count, slotting a pair of first-half goals to launch Italy into the tournament finals. Mario’s shirtless pose after his second goal did work its way into the tabloid annals — in February 2013, he commissioned a life-size statue of himself in that moment for his house — but it also became one of the indelible images from a memorable tournament.
9. May 19, 2013: Milan’s savior
Balotelli started the 2012-13 season at City, wore out his welcome, and then moved to AC Milan in January. He was instrumental in the team’s campaign to return to the Champions League – in the season finale against Siena, he earned a penalty and converted in the 84th minute to put the teams level – his 12th goal in 13 games for the Rossoneri. Teammate Philippe Mexes scored three minutes later to complete a dramatic comeback that vaulted them into the third and final automatic CL spot for Serie A.
10. June 14, 2014: World Cup goalscorer
It wasn’t the happiest of World Cups for Italy, but Balotelli provided one of the best moments of the too-short campaign. Deadlocked 1-1 against England in swampy Manaus in their tournament opener, Balotelli headed home an inswinging cross in the 50th minute, and helped keep the pressure on until subbing off in the 73rd minute. Sadly, for him and for Italy, it was his only goal of the tournament.