Mario Balotelli Milan

Mario Balotelli doesn’t need to be slowly developed and groomed. He always wanted to be right in the thick of things, and to be treated like the most important player on the pitch. Since joining AC Milan, he has gotten his wish, and this season, the first he gets to start in Italy since 2009, might also be the year he joins the ranks of the world’s elite strikers.

Because ever since leaving Manchester City and joining AC Milan, Balotelli is proving time and time again that he’s a lot more than the calmest person to ever take on the penalty spot. He has scored 14 goals in 17 matches for the Rossoneri, and was the main reason they barely made it into the Champions League last season.

In the seasons leading up to this point – both with Inter and Manchester City, Balotelli didn’t play enough to help us deduce just how good he really is, and where he belongs in the hierarchy of the world’s best strikers. From brilliant long range shooting to foolish fouls and violent behavior on the pitch, Balotelli was one huge question mark, and one of the players who looked like they were going to waste a huge amount of talent.

But faith from Prandelli was always there, even though Balotelli didn’t always deserve the credit he was getting in the Italian team. Then came his brace against Germany in the European Championship Semifinal, and even though the thing most people remember from that match was Balotelli’s pose after scoring one of the goals, it was also the moment everyone realized it’s time for him to stop being a bench player for Manchester City.

At Milan, he’s taken over completely, nudging the talented Stephan El Shaarawy aside. There is no room for two talented scorers on an Italian team, so El Shaarawy gets to be the winger who supports, nothing more. Balotelli himself is showing that he’s a lot more than a man with a powerful shot, both for club and country. He has scored four goals for Italy in the qualifiers to the world cup, and two more in the Confederations Cup.

More importantly, we’re getting a fuller spectrum of his skills – Power, Pace, aerial ability and a lot better at holding up play and creating chances for others than he was before, only he’s showing it on a regular basis, never having to wonder anymore about his chances to appear in the lineup.

We’ll get to see him in at least six matches for Milan in the Champions League, which is another stepping stone for him as he becomes a more and more household name, or at least is on his way there. Milan and Balotelli don’t have a good enough team to break the hold of Juventus and Napoli on the top two spots continuing from last season, but on an individual level, Balotelli will continue to shred any doubts about his ability and inclusion among Europe’s best strikers.

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