As Brescia prepare to part ways with Mario Balotelli after a public fall-out, we give you the reasons why the striker’s homecoming didn’t go to plan.
“Here, I have everything I need, because it’s the team from my city,” Mario Balotelli said upon putting pen-to-paper on a three-year contract with Brescia last August.
The scene was set for a glorious union between player and hometown club. For Balotelli, this was a chance to resurrect his fading career prospects. A prolific spell in France healed some damage, but not enough to tempt top clubs into handing him another chance.
Joining Brescia, who returned to the Serie A for the first time since 2011, seemed an appropriate move. It’s a club his late foster father, Francesco, supported.
Several noteworthy players also represented the Little Swallows in the past, including 1993 Ballon d’Or winner Roberto Baggio and Pep Guardiola.
Helping the Lombardy-based club survive relegation was the clear aim for Balotelli.
“I have good feelings,” said chairman Massimo Cellino.
“I’m sure Mario will give everything for survival, which remains a difficult goal. It is also a way to thank Brescia, who is very close to me. I won’t talk about figures, but this operation costs a lot.”
Less than a year later, however, the dream homecoming is all but over.
Brescia sit rock-bottom in the league standings, almost destined for relegation with a nine-point gap from safety. Balotelli, meanwhile, hasn’t lived up to expectations. Only five goals in 19 appearances have come his way. In fact, he hasn’t found the back of the net since a 2-1 defeat to Lazio on January 5.
Now Sky Sports reports that Cellino has sent a letter to Mario’s lawyer, Mattia Grassani, announcing plans to end his employment with the club. The striker’s refusal to return to training was the last straw.
Problems at Brescia
For any new player, getting off to a decent start for a new club is often critical. It sets the tone for his debut campaign, which ultimately provides a sign on if he is a good fit. In Balotelli’s case, however, he didn’t get that chance.
After seeing red in his last game for Marseille in May 2019, Balotelli had to serve a four-match ban. Therefore, Brescia were without their star signing for their opening four Serie A fixtures. Two wins, though, ensured them of a decent start in Mario’s absence.
The former Manchester City striker made his debut on September 24 in a 2-1 defeat to Juventus. He then opened his account for Brescia by scoring against Napoli in the next match, which ended in another 2-1 loss.
But Balotelli’s return coincided with a dreadful run of form for Brescia. The Serie A newcomers went on a nine-match winless streak, that included eight defeats and just one draw. Back-to-back victories over SPAL and Leece in mid-December gave them some relief.
Almost seven months later, however, the Little Swallows haven’t won another league game.
Not helping Balotelli was the three different managers that Cellino has used since the start of the season. Eugenio Corini and Fabio Grosso both tried and failed. The former, in fact, was sacked twice after being re-appointed briefly following Grosso’s dismissal.
Former Cagliari boss Diego Lopez has been in the dugout since February, losing three and drawing one of his opening four matches.
All these changes in management can’t have been easy for Balotelli and his teammates. The lack of consistency, uncertainty, different tactics and formations probably only made things worse.
So performance-wise at least, it may be a little harsh to look down on Mario. While five goals isn’t much to brag about, he’s still the top-scorer under difficult circumstances.
An unsavoury turn for Mario
A move away from Italy seems probable for Mario at this stage.
The Italian’s relationship with Celino has taken an unsavoury turn following his no-show for training. While Mario has protested his reasons for not showing up, it appears there is no turning back.
“He no longer has his head with us and I am taking his departure for granted,” said Celino.
“It’s not necessarily different to what he’s always done in his career. He’s just a bit anarchic.”
Brescia had ordered Balotelli to train alone in May after failing a series of physical tests. Things quickly escalated from that point onwards, with the player not showing up at all in the last few days.
While the 29-year-old has sent a medical certificate to the club proving he is suffering from gastroenteritis, Celino has had enough. Rather than wait for Mario’s contract to be annulled once Brescia succumb to relegation, he’s taken action to end the agreement now.
“Mario had a lot to give, but had to do more, much more,” coach Lopez told the Corriere della Sera.
“He trained alone because his teammates chose to follow another path. He didn’t even show up on Zoom during the quarantine.”
An independent arbitration panel will likely resolve the dispute once and for all should Balotelli submit a claim of wrongful termination.
With his 30th birthday coming in August, though, Mario’s career has suffered yet another unwelcome blow. And this time, there may be no coming back.
While things on the pitch were out of his control, he badly needed a positive season. But as we’ve seen frequently now, it ended on a sour note.
Chances are Balotelli will head to Turkey or outside Europe next as his prospects of being reinstated in the Italian national team are practically over.