The 23-year-old AC Milan striker is linked with a £25 million move to Arsenal. The Italian international’s agent has suggested this week that a move to the Emirates is possible this summer, describing the club as ‘fantastic’.
The North Londoners have been over reliant on the services of Olivier Giroud, presently their only senior recognised centre-forward and are widely expected to bring in another striker to compete and combine with the France international but there may be reservations over whether Mario Balotelli is the right option for the club.
The former Manchester City striker is a controversial personality, both on and off the field, and has shown over his career a lack of discipline, maturity and consistency. He has a track record of getting himself sent off and can be a liability at times to his teammates and manager but could Arsene Wenger be the man to get the best out of him?
He is not a youngster anymore and there is no doubt he is a talented player as he has demonstrated in Serie A with Inter Milan previous and AC Milan this term scoring 18 goals and making 8 assists in all competitions for AC Milan this term as well as his development and experience in the Premier League – whilst on the books at the Etihad he managed a 30 goals in 80 appearances in all competitions for Manchester City.
He has 31 caps for his country and counting – he scored against England last Saturday in the Three Lions’ 2-1 defeat to Italy at the World Cup – and there have been murmurs from commentators and pundits over in Brazil that perhaps he is maturing as a player and as a man. His former coach at AC Milan, Clarence Seedorf said as much as part of the BBC punditry team just this week.
He was sent off just the once for AC Milan this season but he did pick up 15 yellow cards in all competitions which still leaves quite a lot of room for improvement when you consider Giroud picked less than half that number last term across a greater number of appearances and minutes on the pitch.
Wenger is not perceived as a disciplinarian in the same sense that, for example, Louis van Gaal is, but he is a stickler for discipline, evidenced by his dropping of Giroud from the team following misbehaviour both professionally and personally earlier on this year. That is a statement that will tell you how the French coach feels about the rules – they are non-negotiable and there are no exceptions.
The boss has also dealt with 'difficult personalities' over the years – the likes of Tony Adams, Paul Merson, Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, and in recent years Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie, and Nicklas Bendtner. When a player has exceptional talent, like Vieira for example, he is willing to work with the player to get the best out of them.
We saw with Robin van Persie’s legal troubles that Wenger focused on football and, ultimately, kept the player focused on football, and in terms of Vieira, he remains the most dismissed Arsenal player of all time. What they all have in common is talent (perhaps to a lesser extent with the Dane who is on his way out perhaps for that very reason).
Ultimately, Clarence Seedorf's statement Balotelli is maturing is telling. And in an environment with the kind of unity and team spirit that Arsenal have in the squad at present could be a calming influence on the player. Apart from Giroud’s recent indiscretions, the Arsenal players are rarely the ones you hear about hitting the club’s and partying all night and Balotelli could perhaps find himself in the optimum conditions to get his head down, work hard, listen to a world-class manager, learn, improve and fulfil his undoubted potential.
Jose Mourinho claims Balotelli is ‘unmanageable’ but I firmly believe if there is one manager who could potential get the best out of the striker, it would be Arsene Wenger at Arsenal where players are given trust and faith and freedom to express themselves, along with encouragement and patience, more than any other club in the Premier League.