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The Mario Balotelli Story: Comedy or Tragedy?

28/01/2015 17:47 GMT | Updated 30/03/2015 10:59 BST

"I could write a book of 200 pages of my two years at Inter with Mario, but the book would not be a drama - it would be a comedy." - Jose Mourinho

The current Chelsea boss described his time with Balotelli in Serie A as a comedy story. Most English football fans will remember his time at Manchester City equally fondly - an entertaining side-show whose presence City tolerated because he still delivered on the pitch. Occasionally.

When the City love affair ended, he followed in the footsteps of another mercurial talent with a flair for causing a media storm - Zlatan Ibrahimovic - by moving to AC Milan, having previously played for fierce rivals Inter.

The move looked like it could be the making of the former boy-wonder. At 22 years old, it was finally time to blossom and leave the childish antics behind. He could lead the line for club and country - the road was clearly laid out ahead of him.

He started off down the road well enough - 12 goals from his first 13 games - but then the clown car that is his professional career started falling apart again, leaving doors and wheels strewn around the San Siro as he pushed the Milan management to the limits of their patience.

2013/14 saw his most successful season on the pitch, but there was trouble brewing off it and a number of fallings-out with the club hierarchy saw him shipped out to Liverpool in the summer.

If this story were a comedy, this would've been the point where having hit the low of being told he was no longer needed in his homeland, he would fight back in Liverpool to prove his worth and show the world that he could be the great player he always believed he would be.

Instead, the clown car has broken down completely, spewing smoke from under the bonnet and firing custard pies far and wide.

The most telling moment this season at Anfield wasn't when he was dropped from the squad - registering just 34 minutes of football in 2015 at the time of writing - nor was it the time he was slammed by boss Brendan Rodgers for swapping shirts with Pepe at half-time. It was, typically, something that happened off the pitch.

His now infamous 'Super Mario' Instagram post saw him banned for one match for the anti-semitic message it contained and proved his career-long problem. He never intends to hurt anybody, he does things with the best of intentions (he believed that the Instagram post, for example, contained an anti-racism message) and he causes a mess anyway. At 18, it's understandable. At 24, it's hopelessly naive and the mark of a man who's incapable of growing up.

We've now passed the point where merely telling him to behave will make the slightest bit of difference. Gently guiding him onto the right track doesn't seem to work either and forcing him to stick rigidly to instructions just causes him to lash out harder in protest. What's left?

It looks like he's spending at least the next six months at Liverpool under Rodgers, who is often touted as one of the league's best man-managers and his ability to get the best out of Luis Suarez last season certainly backs that up. It's the best chance Balotelli will ever have.

Once again, he finds himself facing a make-or-break season. But this time more than ever - he'll be 25 at the start of the next term and the list of clubs willing to take a chance on him is rapidly diminishing. After all, is it even a 'chance' if it's a near-guarantee that he'll do something destructive at some point?

There are two roads ahead of Super Mario now. To the left, a smooth, well-lit road that sees him get his head down and regain form while staying out of the headlines. To the right, a dark, country road littered with potholes, the abandoned dreams of footballers past and a life of spending 18 months at every club until he becomes more hassle than he's worth.

Then again, this is Mario. There's every chance he'll eschew the roads altogether and fire up the clown car for a cross-country ride into new and unexplored territory.

It could still be a great adventure story, or a real underdog tale that sees him get his act together to lead Italy to a World Cup win in Qatar, aged 32, but it's too gut-wrenching to be a comedy at this point.

And it's going to take a lot of work to avoid a tragic tale of the talent that never quite made it.

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