Kiev, July 2 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Down on his haunches on the turf of Kiev’s Olympic stadium, Mario Balotelli battled in vain to hold back the tears.
The Italy striker, so often labeled mischief-maker for his temper tantrums of the past, had just witnessed his side’s 0-4 thrashing by Spain in the Euro 2012 final.
But these were not tears of a brat who had lashed out, been sent off, or lost a game for his team, but rather of a man who had given his all for his country and fallen short; a couple of errant pot shots his grand contribution in the biggest game of his career to date.
Having scored three goals and registering the most attempts on target of any player at the tournament, and, perhaps most promisingly, keeping his temperament in check, Euro 2012 marked the coming of age for the Manchester city forward.
Whatever the reason for the “Why Always Me?” message revealed on his vest after scoring in the Manchester derby last year, very little evidence of a petulant self-obsession was on display in the deeper blue of Italy.
In two years at the Etihad Stadium, Balotelli has been sent off four times, been involved in bust-ups with team mates, opponents and coaches, and engaged in bizarre behaviour that many have linked to his troubled upbringing.
Balotelli, born in Sicily to Ghanaian immigrants, survived a life-threatening condition with his intestines in his infancy that required multiple operations.
Unable to care for him, his parents fostered him out to an Italian family, with whom he lived through his 18th birthday, when he acquired Italian citizenship.
He fell out several times with Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan, his first big club, after the Portuguese coach lambasted him for being too complacent in training.
It came at the same time as Balotelli, the first black player to appear for Italy in a major tournament, began to suffer persistent racial abuse during Serie A games.
Eventually, he moved to Manchester, where he was reunited with Roberto Mancini, the coach who had bought him for Inter for 340,000 euros in 2007, paying over 20 million pounds for the same player four years later.
To Mancini’s chagrin, Balotelli showed no signs of maturing, and the coach despairing with his new charge, at times unsure whether to leave him on the bench to punish bad behaviour or play him for encouragement.
It appeared Mancini had finally lost patience after Balotelli’s fourth dismissal of the season against Arsenal in April, consigning him to the substitutes’ bench for the remainder of the season.
But at the death, he showed he still had faith by bringing him on in the final game against Queen’s Park Rangers.
Balotelli repaid Mancini, who had called him “crazy” and a smattering of various synonyms, by providing the assist for Sergio Aguero, who scored the goal that sealed City’s first Premier League title.
It was a signal that Balotelli had turned a corner, one he has appeared to confirm in Ukraine and Poland.
Still in tears, Balotelli disappeared down the Kiev tunnel following the final whistle, the world waits to see what kind of player will emerge for City next season.