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Where has "Super" Mario gone? Balotelli's battle to fulfill potential

By Chris Murphy, CNN
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Mario Balotelli has had a low key start to his Liverpool career after a big-money move from Italian giants AC Milan. The English club finished runner-up in the Premier League last season but have stuttered so far, losing six of its 13 competitive fixtures. Mario Balotelli has had a low key start to his Liverpool career after a big-money move from Italian giants AC Milan. The English club finished runner-up in the Premier League last season but have stuttered so far, losing six of its 13 competitive fixtures.
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Super Mario?
Goal shy
Red mist
City slicker
Proud Italian
Out in the cold
Young gun
Milan's main man
On the move
Last chance saloon?
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Milan director Umberto Gandini tells CNN the time was right for Mario Balotelli to leave
  • Gandini says the controversial striker is not yet at the stage where he can "carry the club"
  • Balotelli left Milan for Liverpool in August but has had a modest start to life at Anfield
  • The 24-year-old has just one goals in eight matches and was recently benched

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(CNN) -- One goal in eight matches for new club Liverpool, and dumped by the Italian national team.

Perhaps the man known as "Super" Mario Balotelli isn't feeling quite so super at present.

Offloaded by Italian giants AC Milan prior to the start of the season, the 24-year-old is already onto the fourth high-profile club of his fledgling career.

And until the striker, painted as a maverick and a trouble maker in the press, proves he can '"carry" a club, his enormous potential may go unfulfilled, according to Milan director Umberto Gandini.

Read: Balotelli signs for Liverpool

"Probably Mario has not made the transition yet from being just a fantastic athlete to a great player," Gandini told CNN of one of the most talked about players in world football.

"The expectation was probably bigger (at AC Milan), and I think also his expectations, and he has not reached the status yet where he can carry the club.

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"Until he will do that he won't be able to fulfill his promises."

Balotelli has struggled to adapt to life back in the English Premier League, scoring just one goal in eight matches for Liverpool since his $25 million move in August.

Even his new manager Brendan Rodgers admitted signing the former Inter forward was a "calculated risk" given his checkered past, saying the player himself knows this is probably his last chance.

Not helping him is the shadow of the man he replaced on Merseyside -- Luis Suarez, now at Spanish club Barcelona.

The Uruguayan achieved cult status at the club, scoring 82 goals in 133 appearances, and 31 times last season as the Reds came agonizingly close to a first Premier League title since 1990.

And while there are similarities in the way the pair have courted controversy in the past, Balotelli is yet to offered any hint of the potency that punctuated Suarez's stay at the club.

He is yet to get off the mark in the Premier League and whether he will play alongside Daniel Sturridge on Sunday against QPR, the England striker having returned to fitness, remains to be seen.

Tales of Balotelli's private life dominated his last stint in England and Milan president Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, this week said the striker was signed against his advice, calling him a "bad apple."

But that is at odds with Gandini's assessment -- that Balotelli is far more professional than he is portrayed -- though he does acknowledge the player is energized by conflict.

"He is much, much better than he is portrayed and his lifestyle was much better than portrayed in England," Gandini added. "He is a fantastic kid, he is humble, and recognizes a lot of values that football has given to him, and life in general.

"I think he loves the fight. He loves to fight with something or somebody -- on the pitch, in life. He's always trying to take the stance.

"The more you go after him and provoke him, the more he feels energy and wants to go after it. That may be something he has to learn to control."

One Italian newspaper claimed Balotelli made 788 headlines in his 568 days in Milan while another said the striker possessed "the strange talent of making everyone happy when he arrives and even happier when he leaves."

But Gandini insisted he left Milan on good terms, even though it was clear he had become surplus to requirements at the Rossoneri.

"We honestly thought the best for him was to come to Milan and work in an environment in which he was supported very strongly," he explained.

"He likes Milan, he loves the team, but then we got to a point when we were looking for a different kind of player and he was looking for a different challenge.

I think Mario loves the fight. He loves to fight with something or somebody -- on the pitch, in life
Umberto Gandini, AC Milan director

"Liverpool was there for him. I think that Mario like all the other top players wants to play in the Premier League. He had his first taste with City, now he is more mature and has the opportunity with Liverpool, an historic club.

"That's the environment where he should succeed, and then obviously, at the end of the day it is down to him. I hope he does fulfill his potential, for him, for Liverpool and for the national team."

Milan, a seven-time champion of Europe, is now reduced to talking about potential themselves.

For a club so used to silverware (18 Italian league tiles and counting) going two seasons without any constitutes something of a crisis, but failing to qualify for this season's Champions League is bordering on disaster.

During the summer transfer window, Milan bought former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres from Chelsea and Gandini admits it is vital the club retakes its place among Europe's elite without delay.

"The cost of not being in the Champions League is very heavy, frankly speaking," he said.

"For an Italian club in the Champions League today we can talk about guaranteed money of €35-40m ($44-$50m) and if you have a turnover of €220m ($278m) it's a big share of it.

"Luckily enough, we had provisions of variables into the salaries of the players, some of them can be amortized over time but on the other hand it is critical for us to go back to the Champions League, ideally this season," added Gandini, referring to an accounting tool used by football clubs

"We cannot deny the fact we didn't qualify for Europe has been a turning point in a certain way. We had to regroup and try to improve the value of the squad and try to regain our position among the top clubs in Europe.

"It's very, very important even if it not going to be easy."

Not for the first time in his career, Mario Balotelli finds himself at the center of a racist abuse storm... Not for the first time in his career, Mario Balotelli finds himself at the center of a racist abuse storm...
Police act on abuse
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Mario Balotellli embroiled in racism row Mario Balotellli embroiled in racism row
Mario Balotelli is returning to English football with Liverpool after agreeing a move from AC Milan. Balotelli, who left Manchester City for Italy in January 2013, replaces Luis Suarez at Anfield. Mario Balotelli is returning to English football with Liverpool after agreeing a move from AC Milan. Balotelli, who left Manchester City for Italy in January 2013, replaces Luis Suarez at Anfield.
'Why always me?'
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Mario Balotelli: \'Why always me?\' Mario Balotelli: 'Why always me?'
We saw enough unforgettable action to make Brazil 2014 one of the most memorable tournaments of all time. And it's not just on the pitch where players are making a mark, with many stars of Brazil 2014 producing some superb soundbites. With the quarterfinals almost upon us, here is CNN's pick of the best quotes of the World Cup so far. We saw enough unforgettable action to make Brazil 2014 one of the most memorable tournaments of all time. And it's not just on the pitch where players are making a mark, with many stars of Brazil 2014 producing some superb soundbites. With the quarterfinals almost upon us, here is CNN's pick of the best quotes of the World Cup so far.
World Cup: The best quotes from Brazil 2014
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World Cup: The best quotes from Brazil 2014 World Cup: The best quotes from Brazil 2014

One thing that has been back at the club after an enforced absence is the club's owner, Silvio Berlusconi, whose daughter Barbara is AC's vice-president and managing director.

The politician and businessman, who spent nine years as Italian prime minster, bought the club in 1986, kick-starting a golden period in the club's history.

Berlusconi, who has been dogged by scandal in recent years, is fully supportive of new manager Filippo Inzaghi, and is now "very close to the club," according to Gandini.

"I think he went to visit the club six weeks in a row which he has not done probably since he went into politics in 1994," Gandini explained.

"He didn't have so many opportunities to go weekly to see the club training, to talk to the players, to see the way the work is developing, which is very good.

"From a personal point of view he is dedicating much more time personally to be with the club and with the teams and the players especially which he hasn't done for 20 years now.

"It's very good - he brings a lot of enthusiasm. He has his own vision obviously, been one of most successful entrepreneurs we have in Italy, a great football president.

"He always says that he competes with Santiago Bernabéu de Yeste (former president of Spanish club Real Madrid) as the winningest president in football.

"AC Milan under Mr Berlusconi's ownership has been outstanding, I think."

Inzaghi has a big job on his hands, to sate the appetite for winning of the club's demanding fans, and to satisfy the hierarchy, who can be quick on the trigger when it comes to under performing managers.

But for now the former Milan legend, who spent over a decade at the San Siro and won two European Champions League titles, has the backing of Berlusconi as he tries to rebuild the club. It faces Verona on Sunday.

"It is very important he has the club backing him, Mr Berlusconi, and the results are on his side so far," Gandini said.

"We made mistakes in the past, rushing into decisions that Milan was not used to doing, and I think we learned from the mistakes we made."

Read: Balotelli happy he left England

Read: Balotelli - I'll walk off if racially abused

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