"Super" Mario Balotelli has quickly become one of the most fascinating sports figures in the world.
The enigmatic Manchester City and Italy striker, who scored twice against Germany in Euro 2012 to send the Italy to the Final, has received a great deal of attention in recent weeks. His strange behavior has sometimes clouded the view of his stunning play on the field.
Already with a Premier League title winner's medal to his name this season, can Mario Balotelli add European Championship silverware to his collection?
VIDEO Italy 2-1 Germany: Highlights, Match Report; Balotelli Stuns Germany To Send Azzurri Into Euro 2012 Final
VIDEO Spain 0-0 Portugal (4-2 Pens): Highlights, Match Report; Spain Survive To Make Euro 2012 Final After Dramatic Penalty Shootout
Balotelli is one of the best strikers in the game today, and it could stay that way for a long time considering he is only 21 years old.
The contentious forward is of Ghanaian descent, but was born in Palermo, Sicily. After enduring cramped conditions and constant health problems as a child, his family entrusted him to a foster family in Francesco and Silvia Balotelli.
Balotelli's relationship with his real parents has since deteriorated. The young player expressed anger in 2008 after his biological family made it public that they had put him up for adoption and expressed intentions to bring him back home.
"Why did they never ask the courts to take me back once I had recovered from illness?" he asked in a report published by the Daily Mail. "My adopted parents used to take me there to see them but they were never at home."
Balotelli became an official Italian citizen when he turned 18 and was called to Italy's U-21 team just 16 days later. He scored in his very first appearance for Azzurrini and was added to the senior team two years after that. Balotelli was one of the first black players to ever make the Italian first team, showcasing his immense talent. He also became the first black player to score for Italy, with his goal against Poland in November 2011.
Balotelli has also seen enormous success at the club level, starting with lower level AC Lumezzane at 15, and Inter Milan shortly after he turned 16. Balotelli's skills flourished in Serie A, and he performed amazingly for then-coach Roberto Mancini. After Jose Mourinho replaced Mancini, a long run of disciplinary problems began.
Mourinho publicly questioned Balotelli's effort many times, leading to friction between Balotelli with both his teammates and Inter fans. He was dropped from the first team numerous times in 2009 and consistently dealt with soccer fans not ready to see a black player succeed. Balotelli was subject to racist chants on numerous occasions in Serie A and even had bananas thrown at him during Italy's game against Croatia this summer.
Balotelli's problems with the Inter management came to a head in March 2010 when he was publicly spotted wearing a jersey from Inter's fierce rivals, AC Milan. His problems with Inter never seemed to cease, yet he continued to demonstrate fiery and competitive play on the pitch. Mancini, who had started managing Manchester City in 2009, decided to bring Balotelli to England and use his talents there.
While playing for City, Balotelli won the Golden Boy Award, given to the best under-21 player in Europe, though he still faced numerous disciplinary issues. The trend of amazing play and strange behavior continued as he was caught throwing darts at youth team players in March, while being named man of the match for Manchester City's FA Cup Final win over Stoke City in May of 2011.
The following season, Balotelli and Mancini lifted the Premier League trophy together in City's first title since 1968. But that season involved more controversy, as Balotelli had two dust ups with teammates Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott. He also set off fireworks in his own bathroom that triggered a fire, and was banned for four games after stomping on the hand of Tottenham's Scott Parker.
The list of Mario Balotelli's disciplinary problems is just as long if not longer then the list of his accomplishments.
But Balotelli will add to his professional resume if he shows more heroics for Italy in the Euro 2012 Final against Spain on Sunday. His two powerful goals led Italy the amazing upset over Germany and he has generally been behaving himself in the tournament.
The book is still out on Balotelli. Managers, teammates, and fans constantly wonder who the real Mario Balotelli is. During the short span of his career, he has been labeled many things, and it is impossible to tell which hat he will wear on a given day.
But despite his antics, history, and reputation, Balotelli has shown the world why his "Super Mario" on the pitch.
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