Football is littered with all kinds of stories of what could’ve been – clubs that could’ve signed players who turned out to be stars, and would-be stars who flopped.
Just ask Genoa president Enrico Preziosi. On Wednesday he revealed he once turned down Lionel Messi and let Paul Pogba slip away. Preziosi also famously rejected Robert Lewandowski.
Now 24, Mario Balotelli is a player that is no stranger to having both fanatical fans and steadfast detractors. Some have even declared his Liverpool tenure as a last chance saloon for him with big clubs, having already gone through Inter, Manchester City and AC Milan.
As is known by all, it has not gone well for the striker at Anfield. Not only is he yet to score in the Premier League, but his perceived nonchalance on the pitch has incurred further criticism.
Be that as it may, there’s a reason Balotelli has the clubs he does on his CV. His technique is exquisite and despite attitude issues, it’s always been hard to question his talent.
According to Atalanta general director Pierpaolo Marino, quoted on journalist Gianluca Di Marzio's blog, however, Balotelli’s skill wasn’t enough by itself for the club to sign him after a trial as a 14-year-old.
Marino said: “The human aspect of a kid is the first thing for us. Balotelli came over here when he was 14 – he had a trial with Atalanta.
“It went very well from a technical standpoint, but they rejected him because he talked back to the referee. He responded badly, to say the least.
“I wasn’t here yet, but people who were there told me about it and this is how Atalanta works. Behaviour comes before technical skills.”
The anecdote comes at an interesting time, as the legendary Johan Cruyff spoke out on Monday to blame Balotelli’s former clubs for not educating him properly.
Meanwhile, reports out of Coverciano have claimed that Balotelli has acted like a new man upon his return to the Italy squad, with Gianluigi Buffon offering him personal support.
It’s been suggested that Azzuri boss Antonio Conte, a typically stern figure, could give the 24-year-old exactly what he needs to get back on track in a difficult moment.
Marino's current club didn’t see fit to give Balotelli guidance as part of La Dea’s youth set-up 10 years ago, and now it’s up to Antonio Conte and Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers to bring him along.
This international break could be a crucial moment in the striker’s career as he looks to rebound from recent difficulties, setting the tone for his Liverpool adventure going forward.