Ahead of tomorrow’s Manchester derby, False Nine editor, Andrew Belt, calls for one of the current Premier League champions’ stars to emerge from the shadows and take centre stage again…
You thought Mario Balotelli was the best striker at Euro 2012.
One Fernando was being touted for great things but Llorente was consigned to a watching brief as Spain slay all before them playing the much-lauded ‘false 9’ formation, in which the other Fernando, Torres, managed to bag three goals and restore some much-needed confidence.
Whilst no one would doubt Wayne Rooney’s pure ability on a football, his best position has become open to interpretation and, once freed of his UEFA ban, he failed to make an impact for England’s front line.
The two greatest contenders for Europe’s top striking crown were Robin van Persie and Zlatan Ibrahimovic but RvP had a tournament to forget and ‘Zla main man’ for Sweden wasn’t afforded an opportunity to show his worth beyond the group stages despite an outstanding strike versus France.
The stage was set for the young pretender…
Balotelli’s patchy group stage performance included a smash ‘n’ grab raid on Spain’s Sergio Ramos on the halfway line and a moment of magic against the Republic of Ireland. He was a thorn in the side of the English in the quarter-finals but only managed to score past Joe Hart in the penalty shootout.
He announced himself in the semi-finals. Facing tournament favourites, Germany, Balotelli headed in an Antonio Cassano cross to put Italy 1-0 up before wrapping up the victory before half-time with a thunderous strike beyond Manuel Neuer. His celebration was typical of Balotelli’s enigmatic appeal and was one of the few enduring images of the last 16-team format Euros.
Only his fellow Mario, Gomez, could claim to have had a better Euro 2012 up-front though, the fact he was quiet when Balotelli gunned down Germany en route to the final, diminishes his cause somewhat.
Five months on and the performances over the summer that convinced Manchester City boss, Roberto Mancini, to stick with his controversial compatriot have not manifested themselves in the Premier League. The fireworks you’d expect from Mario have been reduced to a few sulky walks down the tunnel but, whereas, last season, similar acts made for entertaining viewing, this campaign they’ve been met with apathy.
The one positive Balotelli, in a City shirt, has provided this season is his unerring ability to convert from 12 yards out with just the keeper to beat.
Last season, Balotelli lit up the first Manchester derby in October, scoring twice and celebrated by revealing a T-shirt with the ironic words ‘Why always me?’ printed on it. It proved to be one of the most iconic moments in Premier League history and sparked a goal-scoring and headline-grabbing frenzy for the young Italian.
The likes of Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo aren’t here anymore to fascinate and frustrate the Premier League’s watching public in equal measure. A vacuum of superstars in the domestic game has led to more press for the likes of Joey Barton – a decent footballer with a penchant for welcoming controversy.
But without the presence of a world-class talent enthralling fans week in week out the media have to make do with focussing on the verbal sparring engineered by the master of psychology, Sir Alex Ferguson, and the ticking timebomb most managers are awarded by their demanding chairmen.
With entertainment levels rarely accentuated by genuine moments of quality in the Premier League this season, tomorrow’s Manchester derby is in need of some Balotelli magic to remind us what all of the fuss was about; it would be typical of the man to reignite his City career in the reverse of a fixture in which he enjoyed his greatest moment in English football to date.
Follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrey_belt