Rome: A frequent target of racist abuse and often surrounded in controversy, Mario Balotelli’s nomadic career has taken another radical turn.
The former Italy striker was reportedly fired by his hometown club for failing to report to training as the Italian football league prepares to resume from a three-month break amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Local media reported over the weekend that Brescia owner Massimo Cellino had his legal team deliver a dismissal letter to Balotelli to terminate the player’s multi-year contract “for just cause.”
“I thought as the captain of his home city’s team he would have done more,” Brescia coach Diego Lopez told the Gazzetta dello Sport. “He should have and could have done more. It’s too bad. But everyone controls their own destiny.
“He chose one path and the team has taken a different path,” Lopez added.
While Balotelli reportedly excused himself from training by presenting a doctor’s note saying he needed to take a week off for stomach troubles, the club had already had enough of him.
Lopez detailed how Balotelli did not take part in the team’s online training regime during the lockdown, and that on the few days when he did show up for practice recently, his physical conditioning was lacking.
“He’s not at the same level as the other players. That’s why he’s been training on his own,” Lopez said.
When Balotelli signed last August with Brescia — the city where he grew up with his adoptive family — it was an emotional homecoming for a player who has jumped back and forth between the Italian, English and French leagues throughout his career.
“This is my city. I can give so much more here,” he declared then.
But with only five goals in 19 Serie A matches, Balotelli’s stay at Brescia has made more headlines for the racist incidents he has had to endure than his performances.
During a game at Hellas Verona in November, he grew so frustrated by monkey chants from the home fans that he interrupted play by angrily kicking a ball high into the stands and then threatened to leave the field.
The incident in Verona sparked a nationwide debate over racism in Italy. Still, Balotelli — who is black and was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants — was again targeted by discriminatory chants during a match at Lazio in January.
Last week, Balotelli posted an anti-racism tribute on Instagram following mass protests against police brutality and racism across the United States over the killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, in Minneapolis on 25 May.
The Instagram post contained a picture of Balotelli kneeling on one knee with a black glove over his right fist raised to the sky. Accompanying hashtags said “#saynotoracism, #blackpower, #restinpeacebrother and #GEORGEFLOYD.”
While neither Brescia nor Balotelli have made any official statements over the striker’s status with the team — and both parties did not respond to requests for comment — the case is likely headed for an arbitration panel and could take weeks to resolve.
In the meantime, it seems almost certain that Balotelli won’t be suiting up when Brescia resumes playing on 22 June at Fiorentina.
With the club in last place, facing almost certain relegation and now missing its most emblematic player, the team’s only source of motivation might be that Brescia was among the cities hardest hit by the virus in Italy.
More than 15,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Brescia and its surrounding province, which is located in the Lombardy region where more than 16,000 people have died from the virus.
“There needs to be a lot of respect for what happened and for who really suffered,” Lopez said. “We need to play for ourselves, for this shirt and for our fans, because that’s our job.”
Now apparently without his job, Balotelli won’t have the chance to score the five more goals he needed to reach double figures for this season and achieve a bonus that would have doubled his salary.
Due to turn 30 in August, time is also running out on Balotelli’s career and his hopes of returning to Italy’s national team.
“It’s up to him. He controls his own destiny,” Lopez said. “But he needs a different mindset.”