Super Mario Returns, Scores Goal With First Touch In New League

Mario Balotelli marked his return to action with a goal on his Serie B debut.

The mercurial Mario Balotelli needed just four minutes to get off the mark for new club Monza against Salernitana on Wednesday in Italy's Serie B. 

Balotelli had been without a club since the summer, when his contract with Brescia was terminated as a result of several missed training sessions. Serie B side Monza swept in to offer the forward a deal until the end of the season in early December. Monza is owned by Silvio Berlusconi, who previously owned AC Milan where Balotelli enjoyed some of the strongest spells of his up-and-down career. 

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His initial return to Italy with Brescia came as something of a surprise following a strong half-season with Marseille, where he scored eight goals in 15 appearances after a January move from fellow south-coast side Nice. Balotelli had been a key man for Nice, scoring 43 goals in 76 games. It was an unqualified disappointment, then, to see him struggle at Brescia: he scored five goals in 19 appearances, playing just 1,409 minutes across a campaign that twice saw him unavailable due to suspension. 

His homecoming with the Northern Italian side was fraught with problems from the start: Balotelli found himself subjected to racist chants from Verona supporters, who were supported by their team's manager and president. Ivan Juric and Maurizio Setti somehow found it within themselves to claim no abuse had taken place. 

Balotelli then found himself dropped in November and Brescia owner Massimo Cellino, when asked about the frontman, responded: "What can I say? That he’s black and he’s working to whiten himself but he has great difficulties in this.”  A seemingly oblivious Cellino did not see how his remarks, defended by some as a play on words or a problem of translation, could be deemed offensive. 

Cellino later hit out at Balotelli in the press, telling the BBC: “He doesn’t show up to training, he doesn’t look very committed, let’s say, for the future of the club.” Balotelli found himself training alone from March, and then was locked out of the ground in June after the club was not informed of his recovery from gastroenteritis in time, causing Brescia to worry about potential insurance coverage.

After his nightmare of a homecoming came to an end, Balotelli, once a star of Italy's Euro 2012 exploits, trained for a time with Serie D side Franciacorta before Monza came calling. Super Mario finds himself once again playing alongside ex-Milan teammate Kevin-Prince Boateng, who joined the side in September after a loan spell in Turkey. Football fans everywhere will be hoping cult hero Balotelli can continue as he has started with Monza, currently in third place in Serie B, two points behind league-leading Salernitana.

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