Top 10 things you need to know about Mario Balotelli
Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli is currently at the centre of a Manchester tug-of-love as both Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson vie for the hotshot's services.
Here's everything you need to know about Italy's most-wanted...
1) Mario Barwuah Balotelli was born on August 12, 1990 in Parlermo, Sicily. He's been given the - somewhat inevitable - nickname of 'Super Mario'.
2) His biological parents, Ghanian immigrants Thomas and Rose Barwuah, put Mario up for adoption when he was aged just two years old. He was brought up by Italian foster parents in Brescia and eventually gained Italian citizenship after his 18th birthday. He later accused the Barwuahs of being 'glory hunters' when they started conducting press interviews about their 'son' in the wake of Balotelli's breakthrough.
3) His footballing career began in earnest at A.C. Lumezzane, where Balotelli became the youngest player in Serie C1 history after gaining special compensation to appear in a first-team match against Padova while aged just 15 years-old.
4) A prodigiously-talented and much-sought after youngster, he had a trial at Barcelona before eventually signing for Internazionale in 2006. After scoring 19 goals in 20 appearances for the youth side, Balotelli was promoted to the Italians' U-20 Primavera side while still being just 16 years old. He continued his impressive scoring record for the U-20s, bagging eight in 11 outings including the winning last-minute in the 2007 youth cup final against Sampdoria.
5) He made his Inter first team debut aged just 17 in December 2007, coming on as a sub in a 2-0 win against Cagliari. Balotelli made his first start the following week, scoring twice in a 4-1 Coppa Italia victory over Reggina, but really came to national prominence the following January, when he bagged another brace in the same competition's quarter-final - away at Juventus. And here they are:
6) He scored his first Serie A goal in April 2008 away at Atalanta and his first in the Champions League the following November against Anorthosis Famagusta, when Balotelli overtook Obafemi Martins to become the youngest ever Inter Milan scorer in the competition at 18 years and 85 days. You can see that debut league goal at 1.30 in the following clip:
7) He resisted a 2007 call-up to the Ghana squad in order to hold out for Italian citizenship and a chance to play for the Azzuri. Balotelli got his reward following his 18th birthday when he made his Italy U-21 debut against Greece in September 2008.To date he's earned 16 caps and scored six times for the Azzurini, and was unlucky not to have been promoted to the senior squad for the 2010 World Cup finals.
8) By the end of the 2009-10 season he'd notched up 86 appearances in total for Inter and scored 28 goals. He's also helped secure three back-to-back Serie A titles, two domestic cups and, oh yes, the 2009-10 Champions League title. Not bad going for a 19 year-old. Here's a quick but beautiful summary of his extraordinary story:
9) His time in Italy has not been without controversy, though: Balotelli's ethnic background has frequently provoked unsavoury responses from Italian crowds, most noticeably from Juventus fans, who have been repeatedly fined and landed with partial and full stadium closures on account of it.
10) Despite his undoubted talent, Balotelli's career has been dogged by accusations of unprofessional behaviour. Inter boss Jose Mourinho accused him of being lazy in training and dropped him from the first team squad in January 2009, and again in 2010 following a string of altercations with both Mourinho and his own fans. In February 2009, meanwhile, he missed a flight to an Italy U-21 training session after allegedly over-sleeping. Let's hope the people of Manchester know what they're in for...