Will Mario Balotelli ever win the Ballon d'Or?

It’s probably a fanciful question to ask and, right now, the more pertinent question about Mario Balotelli is will he still be at Liverpool next season, rather than whether he will one day fulfil his ambition of being named the Ballon d’Or.

Unless he enjoys the type of super-human run of form between now and the end of the year, the like of which is the staple of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, then Balotelli will not even register as an after-thought when it comes to the naming of the next Ballon d’Or winner in early 2016.

As a sign of how remote his chances are of winning football’s most prestigious individual prize, he is 500/1 with Betfair to win when this article was created. The fact that Emile Heskey and Nicklas Bendtner are 1000/1 to be named Ballon d’Or at the same time probably gives you some indication as to the esteem Balotelli is currently held in.

If you throw in the suggestion that Arsenal and Manchester United fans are trying to launch a campaign to have the Italian named Liverpool’s Player of the Year, then Balotelli is in danger of being derided as some sort of figure of fun.

And, while he has not always helped himself during a turbulent career, it is sad to see such a talented, naturally gifted footballer mocked in such a fashion, even if it is attributed to that joyless word ‘banter’.

Because it is certainly not laughable to promote the idea that Balotelli does have the talent to win the Ballon d’Or winner. Michael Owen won it in 2001 and you could certainly rate Balotelli on a par with the former England striker when it comes to talent, and delivering the goods on the day. But that is essentially the problem with Balotelli. His day seems to come less and less often, which Liverpool fans will certainly testify to on the back of his move from AC Milan last August.

Even Balotelli would have to admit that his move back to the Premier League has not lived up to expectations after Liverpool spent £16million on him before the close of the transfer window. Sure, there have been the ups and downs that you have come to expect from Balotelli, but there have not been the goals that he usually brings with the assorted baggage.

He has scored just once in the Premier League for Liverpool in 14 appearances, albeit the winner in a 3-2 home success over Tottenham back in February. In total, he has scored just four goals in 25 games in all competitions. Liverpool would rightly have expected more goals and more games, especially considering Balotelli’s track record, and his prowess as a dead-ball specialist, which you can see below.

It was back in early 2012, during Balotelli’s first spell in English football with Manchester City, when he floated the idea that he could one day win the Ballon d’Or. He acknowledged that he would need Messi’s performance level to drop, and he also failed to factor in the incessant scoring record of Real Madrid’s Ronaldo. Messi’s level has yet to drop, but Balotelli’s has and he has not put himself in a position to be talked about as a worthy long-term successor to the Argentinian.

At the end of 2012, after he had helped City to win the Premier League title and also Italy to reach the final of Euro 2012, Balotelli was named on the 23-man short list for the Ballon d’Or. His position on the list was justifiable. He had contributed 13 goals towards City’s title success, including two in the famous 6-1 victory over derby rivals Manchester United when Balotelli had the chance to display his ‘Why always me?’ T-shirt.

There may also have been two red cards, including a somewhat needless one against Arsenal towards the end of the season, but he did play his role. He was also a key figure for Italy at Euro 2012, scoring against the Republic of Ireland and then against England in the penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals. Balotelli scored both goals against Germany in the semi-finals and he was named in the Team of the Tournament. Those are the sort of contributions which do get you towards the forefront of the minds of those who vote for the Ballon d’Or.

But, in the ensuing three years, Balotelli has seemed further away than ever from emulating the likes of Roberto Baggio and Fabio Cannavaro as Italy internationals to have been named Ballon d’Or.

He joined AC Milan in January 2013 and the club’s vice-president Adriano Galliani spoke of his wish to see Balotelli become another famous player to wear the Rossoneri shirt and be crowned the Ballon d’Or. But, despite a decent scoring record at the San Siro, he was deemed expendable enough after just 18 months and allowed to join Liverpool for what, in some regards, was a modest fee when you compare Andy Carroll was signed for £35million.

With Balotelli turning 25 in August this year, he is approaching another crossroads in his career, and it could be the most important, especially if he genuinely has serious ambitions of winning the Ballon d’Or, as opposed to imitating the holder Ronaldo.

It is hard to envisage him staying at Liverpool next season. After Balotelli had scored a winning penalty against Besiktas in the Europa League in February, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers warned the forward that he needed to work harder to get into the team. Even his decisive contribution was not free of controversy after he took the ball off stand-in captain Jordan Henderson to take the spot-kick.

Since then, he has been rarely sighted, with illness ruling him out of the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Blackburn amid further nudges and winks about his general attitude and demeanour. It seems unlikely that he is going to play a major part in Liverpool’s bid to reach the FA Cup Final and also pip Balotelli’s former club City to fourth place in the Premier League.

Both Liverpool and Balotelli will likely have to take a hit if there is to be a summer parting of the ways. It is hard to see another club willing to match the fee Liverpool paid for Balotelli and the player himself will surely have to take a pay cut to move.

Sampdoria president Massimo Ferrero is keen to sign him and he believes moving to Genoa would lead to the ‘real’ Balotelli being seen again. In terms of spotlight and profile, it would allow Balotelli to reignite his enthusiasm away from such an intense focus, but at the same time, diminish his prospects of being seen enough to warrant Ballon d’Or attention.

Conversely, though, such a move could have a transforming effect on Sampdoria in the same way Diego Maradona did at Napoli in the 1980s. Now, no-one would suggest for a minute that Balotelli is on a par with Maradona, but if he helps Sampdoria to punch above their weight, that is the sort of contribution which gets you noticed.

Alternatively, would there be any takers back at former club Inter Milan? Roberto Mancini is now back in charge at Inter and he has been the coach who has seemed capable of getting the best out of Balotelli on a consistent basis, for a slightly more prolonged period.

A summer move would certainly seem to suit everyone and there is no shame in Rodgers accepting the gamble of signing Balotelli has not worked out. As for Balotelli, it is not too late for him to win the Ballon d’Or, he just needs to decide how much he wants it.