So, what are we going to do with ourselves now?
At first the lack of stories that begin ADJECTIVE BALOTELLI VERBS NOUN, MANCINI FURIOUS will seem like a blessed relief. Not hearing that he fed Cointreau to an owl and then made it sing Celine Dion's 'Think Twice' will feel good. Not learning that he picks all the vowels out of his Alphabetti Spaghetti, the better to frustrate any guests, will feel freeing. And then two months will pass, and three, and we'll start to wonder what he's up to. We'll start to miss those occasional shards of nonsensical buffoonery that provided a moment's respite between the transfer rumours and arguments about offside decisions. We'll look at the dull shambles that is the Premier League and think, 'why doesn't Edin Dzeko ever set fire to anything?'
In some ways it's just as well there's all this other stuff to talk about, since the only really justifiable position on his football is a kind of 'hmm, let's wait and see'. On the evidence offered during his time in England, he's not on the verge of joining Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Joe Cole as the greatest talents of their age. But on the other hand, he's not rubbish. This is not the stuff of which light-hearted profile pieces are made.
Yet by being (on the pitch) good, occasionally excellent, often poor, and generally unpredictable, as well as (off the pitch) hilarious, tedious, banteriffic, attention-seeking, loltastic, constantly seeming to be one step removed from everything around him, Balotelli managed to become something other than the usual 'character footballer'. In a sport largely made up of boring people being boring, boring people trying to be interesting and arseholes, Balotelli was something slightly different. If other footballers broke curfew, they would go out drinking; he would go out, not touch a drop, and have a mock swordfight with rolling pins. You can yawn or you can chortle at that anecdote, but you can't drop any other footballer's name into that story and have it stand up.
Is there no hope? Will we not get to enjoy Crazy Mario in Italy, doing all the usual Crazy Mario things, but with Vespas and pasta and tiny cups of strong coffee? Balotelli the footballer will crop up in internationals, and maybe the Champions League if Milan sort themselves out, no? That's why Silvio Berlusconi has bought him, after all - part striker for flailing team; part manna from heaven for an extensive media empire.
Presumably the papers will try their best, but it'll be thin stuff, filtered through distance and translation, and diluted by his presence in another league, playing another country's football. Without him trotting out onto Sky's screens every week, fumbling with his bib, and taking his place on the bench, the nonsense just won't feel as important. It won't be our nonsense. Besides, strange things are meant to happen in foreign countries. That's what they're for.
So. farewell then, Mario Balotelli. You arrived on these shores a young, talented player with reputation for being a bit difficult, and you leave ... well, more or less the same. A couple of years older, of course, and several million pounds richer, and with the most efficient assist-to-title ratio any player could ever dream of. Not since Jimmy Greenhoff nicked the 1977 FA Cup for Manchester United has an arse played such an important role in directing silverware.
And now you're gone (to Italy). Farewell to the Irrepressible Story Generator, the Unrelenting Hilarity Machine, the Whimsical Chuckle-Fountain. Stop all the presses, silence the parody accounts ...
He was my Bantz, my Lolz, my #LAD, my Ledge,
My pointless yellow and my violent red,
The hat, the fireworks, the darts, the grass;
I thought the fun would last for ever: it has passed.