With the new campaign just days old, I asked a selection of journalists and media figures to predict the unpredictable; how do you see Mario Balotelli’s season panning out? Here is what they said:
Alistair Mann, Match of the Day and CityTV commentator: I think that we saw a much more mature Mario Balotelli in the Euros for Italy. There were genuine signs that he’d taken the responsibility of leading the line for his country as a positive. He had international defenders up against him trying to wind him up and he didn’t rise to it. Yes, there were still “Mario moments” and he wouldn’t be the same guy if there weren’t but I do believe that he is beginning to learn how to be more streetwise and stay out of trouble. I predict a very good season with twenty goals and just one red card for two bookings. I hope I’m right.
Iain Macintosh, Football writer for The New Paper and others: I think he’ll put in three months of steady, competent displays, rattling in nine or ten goals before Fireworks Night before landing himself in a cell for the night after riding an elephant through Manchester City centre hurling tins of dogfood at parked cars.
Jamie Jackson, Manchester football correspondent for the Guardian and Observer: More mischief but more goals and game winning performances.
James Ducker, Northern Football Correspondent of The Times newspaper: You have to hope he builds on what was a very encouraging Euros, when he showed signs of maturity but I just think he’s destined to be one of those players who veers continually between the sublime and the ridiculous.
Oliver Kay, Chief Football Correspondent for The Times newspaper: The usual combination of good, bad and ugly. I’m still a Mario-sceptic, I’m afraid. I know there will be times when he’ll play exceptionally well and finish impeccably – and his performances for Italy in the Euros were encouraging – but I just don’t think he’s wired in a way that means he’ll ever be consistent or reliable enough to make the most of his ability. He’ll have a good run of form and people will say he’s matured into a world-class player and then – click – he’ll regress and do something utterly stupid that will cost his team. And I expect he’ll still be like that when he’s 30.
Mike Keegan, Sports News Correspondent for the Manchester Evening News: One thing I will predict is that he will be in the papers more than any other City player this season. Whether it is for the right or wrong reasons is up to him. Personally I think we will see the best of Mario this time. He matured a lot towards the back end of last term and his performances for Italy in the Euros almost won the BBC commentators over! He seems a lot more comfortable at the moment and he should be set for a big year. Having said that, Mario is Mario and nothing would surprise me.
Daniel Taylor, Chief football writer for the Guardian and Observer: It’s like trying to nail a jelly on the wall. Who knows? People say he showed new maturity in the Euro 2012 and, fair enough, he did, to a point. He still stormed down the tunnel at the end of the final and shoved a steward out of the way in the process! I’m sure it will be the usual Mario mix of good and bad. It’s a big season for him though – I still don’t think he has been a great player for City, flitting in and out of the team, and though everyone keeps pointing out he’s 22 it’s not 17/18. He needs to get a regular run in the team, 15 to 20 games, but it would be naive to think he’s just going to have changed with a click of the fingers.
Gabriele Marcotti, writer and pundit for The Times, Corriere dello Sport, ESPN and more: I expect him to be more like the Balotelli we saw at the Euros. At some point, he’s going to turn the corner.
Rob Dawson, Football writer covering Man City and Man United for the Manchester Evening News: I’d like to say I think this is going to be the season when Mario becomes a man but I don’t see it happening. He’s going to spend more time out of the team this season with Carlos Tevez back and and I don’t think he’s well-suited to kicking his heels on the bench. I’m predicting another season of brilliant flashes coupled with moments of madness.
Ian Ladyman, Northern Football correspondent for the Daily Mail: Balotelli’s effectiveness and consistency will not really improve until he feels as though he is a central part of Mancini’s team. He was impressive in Euro 2012 because he played as a traditional number nine and enjoyed the attention and responsibility that came with that. I am not sure that Mancini can give him that – because of the roles Aguero and Tevez play – and Balotelli may once again find himself in and out of the team and playing in wider positions. It’s a conundrum for Mancini because the summer showed just how talented Balotelli is.
Chris Cohen, Presenter and producer for Sky, ESPN and more: Balotelli will have taken huge belief from the Euros (not that he lacked much belief before that) but I still see his temperament and petulance causing him to have another stop-start season. The problem any striker at City faces is that as soon as there is a dip in form/attitude/injury etc there is another world class striker ready to take your place. There’s no question that he can be one of the Premier League greats if he wanted to, it’s just down to his desire.