How Mario Balotelli Could Become a “Cult Hero” at Barnsley

Former Inter, Milan, Brescia and Italy forward Mario Balotelli is back in the headlines this week, after it was revealed that English Championship side Barnsley were interested in signing him.

One of Italy’s most talked about exports, Balotelli began his career with Lumezzane. He got his Inter move early on and from there, the Palermo-born Balotelli would go on to have a fine footballing experience.

That’s not to say his career is over; he turned 30 just last summer and is without a club. Forever full of surprises, arguably the most surprising revelation about his career emerged this week when Sky Sports reported that Barnsley had enquired about him.

The South Yorkshire club who only survived relegation to League One last season thanks to Wigan Athletic’s points deduction are hoping to bring the winner of the 2010 “Golden Boy” award to Oakwell.

From Inter, Balotelli would reunite with Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini at Manchester City in 2010. It was here where Balotelli would announce himself as not only a genuinely good footballer, but as something of a maverick too.

His iconic moments at City include the “Why Always Me” celebration t-shirt, his firework fiasco and subsequent support for the cause, and of course his failed “heel-kick” in a pre-season friendly – something Mancini didn’t take too kindly too.

In the end, it didn’t work out. Balotelli left midway through the 2012-13 season for Milan having picked up a Premier League and FA Cup winners’ medal, scoring 12 goals in his first 13 Serie A games for the club.

A comeback to Italy looked to be just what Balotelli needed to stay grounded. He scored 14 league goals in his first full-season for the club and soon after, a Premier league return was beckoning – Liverpool would sign Balotelli in the summer of 2014.

Now a seemingly mature and confident player, the Anfield stage was set for Balotelli to prosper. But with just one Premier League goal all season, it seemed like the Premier league had given up on Balotelli, and he on it – he returned to Milan on loan for the 2015-16 campaign.

Since then, Balotelli enjoyed a good spell at Nice, a brief one at Marseille and last season he was at Brescia, scoring 5 Serie A goals in 19 games as he saw his side relegated, and himself released.

So would Balotelli realistically opt for a return to England, and if so, why would he want to join Barnsley?

The Tykes currently sit in 16th-place of the Championship table. Under French manager Valerien Ismael, they look to be generating a bit of form and with plenty of young players in the side, Barnsley are building a sustained bid for an eventual promotion to the Premier League.

Balotelli might see this is a golden opportunity, not only to get back into the spotlight, back into the Premier League and so on, but to become a beloved cult hero once more.

He remains a gifted footballer and a shock move like this might be just what he needs to really fulfill his footballing career. Barnsley is a more attractive and realistic option when the pieces are put together, and as surprising as these Balotelli rumors are, they’re gaining traction, and it’s looking more and more like a realistic move.