#21: Mario Balotelli, ITA

There are powder kegs that have started fewer fires than Balotelli has. The eccentric 21-year-old Manchester City striker has been as likely to score a brilliant goal as he has to incur a red card or set alight his bathroom with fireworks.


After being turned down by Barcelona, Balotelli made his professional debut at age 15. Ever since, managers have had to reconcile their ire at his endless antics and their reliance at his improbable combination of size, skill and imagination. So it is, too, for Italy manager Cesare Prandelli, who has taken to leaving Balotelli, who has a mere seven caps, off his roster for his antics in Manchester but will rely on him heavily during Euro 2012, short as he is on young, healthy, quality strikers.




Expert's take: As Manchester City has discovered, a team can live by the Balo or die by the Balo. Few players in football are so physically gifted yet mentally challenged. Can Italy rely upon him? It all depends how badly Super Mario wants the world to see what message he has printed on his undershirt during goal celebrations. --Roger Bennett


Stats That Matter:


• Scored 13 goals in 23 Premier League games this season, the first time in his career he has tallied double-digit league goals


• Named Man of the Match in the 2011 FA Cup final as Manchester City collected its first trophy in 35 years


• Named 2010 recipient of the Golden Boy Award as the top U-21 footballer in Europe, joining previous winners such as Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi


• Part of Inter Milan team that won three consecutive Serie A championships, including the European Treble in 2010


• Inter Milan never lost in 24 games when Balotelli scored a goal


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