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No man is an island
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea
Europe is the less...
John Donne's famous poem seems rather fitting as Mario Balotelli returns home to Italy to leave the Premier League a somewhat duller place in his absence. Although the striker was a divisive figure during his two-and-a-half year stay in England and many had grown tired of his antics, it's fatuous to deny the genuine entertainment he provided in a modern game of bland characters so consumed by projecting the right image.
No man is an island but Balotelli was at least a promontory, exposed by his playful naivety and reckless abandon. In one respect he was an innocent youngster caught up in the whirlwind of tabloid interest, but in another he was a willing showman who courted attention. Beyond that lay a talented but controversial footballer, who created an impression through rare moments of brilliance and the studs he planted on Scott Parker's head and Alex Song's thigh.
Balotelli arrived a boy and leaves a boy, while Roberto Mancini has aged exponentially in his quest to control his young protégé. A car crash the week after he signed for Manchester City lit the fuse for the forward's eventful stay and as fireworks followed he eventually became a distracted distraction. But talk of 'saving' the striker or suggesting he needs help always seemed rather patronising. In some ways his behaviour was often more normal than that of his peers; a decent, if difficult, 22-year-old trying to make sense of a senseless world where fame and fortune arrive at such a young age.
Indeed, Balotelli will be remembered for his headlines rather than his performances and, after he scored only once in the league this season, it's unlikely the striker will prove to be a big loss to City in the immediate future. But that won't prevent Mancini from reflecting on what might have been and nor should it conceal Balotelli's contribution in last season's title race.
Although the young forward is often criticised - not always fairly - for taking leave of his senses, he played a crucial role in City maintaining their title challenge after Carlos Tevez went AWOL in October. In 21 Premier League appearances following Tevez's departure, Balotelli managed 12 goals including a winning penalty against Spurs and two point-saving strikes against Sunderland when the Black Cats crossed City's path at the end of March.
The following fixture saw Balotelli dismissed against Arsenal, with Mancini claiming the then 21-year-old wouldn't feature again before the end of the season. But the striker was worth the hassle, contributing more goals than Edin Dzeko and only three fewer than Sergio Aguero in the league after the start of October. And, of course, he was there when it mattered on the final day to slide the ball into the Argentine's path in those last few seconds.
City may be gaining around £20million and Mancini much-needed focus and peace of mind, but they are also losing a talented player who had shown glimpses of maturity last season that suggested there was reason for the manager's patience and perseverance.
And the rest of us are also losing something, in the same way we did when Eric Cantona retired or Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid. While Balotelli was far from replicating the impact of his Premier League predecessors, he was a box-office player who always entertained and, more importantly, remained honest to himself rather than becoming whatever it was we wanted him to be.
The move to his beloved AC Milan may see Balotelli begin to consistently fulfil his potential and, while he will be sorely missed from these shores, more fool anyone who thinks this will be the last we hear of him.
Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.