During pre-season we had the 'issue' with one of his t-shirts that was a complete non story if ever there was one. Then there was the re-hashed news about Mario's walk around a deprived area of Naples with supposed members of the Mafia as he was called to give evidence regarding what he may have seen or heard during his tour. Of course certain areas of the media tried to label him as some sort of devious crime boss which was laughed off by almost everyone who read it.
Last season Balotelli often swayed from the sublime to the ridiculous on a regular basis but since this season started we've had no 'Mad Man Mario Ate My Hamster' or 'Balo's Bonce Causes Outrage Amongst Road Safety Campaigners' type headlines thus far, and we're 2 months in! Two whole months of no new idiotic articles aimed at turning Mario into the Antichrist.
Mancini has already publicly stated he has been impressed with Balo's effort in training and his attitude towards having to wait for his chances on the pitch. And what about when his chances have come? He's now scored 3 goals in 3 appearances and there's been no bookings, no tantrums, and no arguing with officials. Now that's something not everyone would have expected at the start of the season after he was unceremoniously subbed off the pitch against LA Galaxy in pre-season.
One of the more honest moments you'll ever see is Mario's celebration after coming on as a sub against Everton and breaking the deadlock. The young striker ran over to the technical area and hugged his manager, the man he looks up to and respects so much he calls him 'Papa'. That was a very public thank you and show of affection and respect for the man who has taken a lot of flack for his trust in Mario.
Could that end up as a watershed moment in Balo's career? The moment he decides to cut the crap out of his game and repay the time, effort and faith Mancini has invested in the young man? I don't expect him to change as a person as there is nothing wrong with him in the first place. The jokes, the odd hair, the daft things he does are all part of who Mario Balotelli is. The only thing that held him back was that he took all that bizarre nature onto the pitch with him.
You're never going to say that Mario is the kind of person who runs through brick walls for the team, not like De Jong or Zabaleta would, he's just not that kind of player. He's not the type of player who appears to give 100% all the time either. To be fair though, we've seen his willingness to track back and stick a tackle in more often, although he'll have to work in the tackling part because he's a typical forward when it comes to that department.
He's the type of player to float around the final 3rd, looking for space, he'll try a few cheeky flicks and tricks for sure but he's more than capable of bursting into life with pace and power or taking a step back to curl in a shot from outside the box. He's also a big lad, he's strong enough to be able to rough it with the best if need be and I'm sure everyone would like to see that side a little more along with a little more consistency.
Balotelli's goal against Blackburn summed up the Italian's style of play within a few short seconds. You can see him walking 30 yards from the goal as the ball is being played down the left flank and as the ball falls at Nasri's feet Mario burst into a sprint, unmarked and unchecked. Nasri swings the ball into the box and Balotelli is there to meet it before any defender gets near the ball, sticking out his right foot to gracefully place the ball between the keeper and the post.
He could still turn out to be the surprise of the season as the 'most improved' player in the squad as far as his application on the pitch is concerned. Many of us know he's capable, now it's down to Mario to show it on a regular basis.