10 of Mario Balotelli’s Most Controversial Moments

Mario Balotelli
Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Oh Mario, will you ever learn?

After yet another controversy, this time going AWOL for 10 days after a bust-up with Brescia club president Massimo Cellino and earning himself a ride out the exit door with two years still left on his contract, we thought ‘what better time to take a look back at some of his most controversial moments?’

So we’ve done exactly that:

The Celebration vs. Germany

Claudio Marchisio, Mario BalotelliClaudio Marchisio, Mario Balotelli
Mario Baloteeli | Michael Regan/Getty Images

It’s the semi-final of Euro 2012 against Germany, Balotelli has raced in behind the defence and leathered it into the roof of the net. To celebrate he, rather hilariously, rips his top off and stands flexing his muscles like, well, Cristiano Ronaldo probably would.

When asked why he didn’t celebrate, he said: “I don’t celebrate goals, I’m just doing my job. Does a postman celebrate when he delivered the mail?” No, he does not.”

I mean, he’s got a point…

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If you say you haven’t done this at least once in your life, then you are a liar. It’s just one of those things that only happens when you’re already in a bad mood. Like catching your clothes on a door handle.

Remember, head first yeah.

GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

Back in 2010, Mario and his younger brother Enoch drove into a women’s prison in Brescia because they wanted to have a look around.

“Balotelli has apologised. He spoke in a low voice, he was a little embarrassed,” said the police officer, who had to detained the pair for entering without a permit. We’re all little curious I supoose…

The Fireworks

Old but gold, the time that Mario Balotelli set off fireworks in his own bathroom is always worth a mention.

He later became the face of firework safety adverts in the run up to Bonfire Night. Quite brilliant really.

**Do not try this at home**

The Inter Red Card

Inter Milan's Portuguese coach Jose MourInter Milan's Portuguese coach Jose Mour

” I could write a book of 200 pages of my two years at Inter with Mario, but the book would not be a drama – it would be a comedy,” Mourinho once said.

“I remember one time when we went to play Kazan in the Champions League. In that match I had all my strikers injured. No Diego Milito, no Samuel Eto’o, I was really in trouble and Mario was the only one.

“Mario got a yellow card in the 42nd minute, so when I got to the dressing room at half-time I spend about 14 minutes of the 15 available speaking only to Mario.

“I said to him: ‘Mario, I cannot change you, I have no strikers on the bench, so don’t touch anybody and play only with the ball. If we lose the ball no reaction. If someone provokes you, no reaction, if the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.’

“The 46th minute – red card!”

The Trampoline

Mario BalotelliMario Balotelli
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Mario’s mother once sent him to the shops for some milk and he came back with a giant trampoline, a Vespa and a Scaletrix set. Like a very expensive lucky dip.

Why Always Me?

Manchester City's Italian striker MarioManchester City's Italian striker Mario
Manchester City’s Italian striker Mario | ANDREW YATES/Getty Images

Of course this made this list. It’s ICONIC.

Quite an amazing tag-line for quite an amazing person. If you’re going to score in the Manchester derby, then you might as well celebrate it in style.

The Friendly ‘Skill’

Roberto Mancini, Mario BalotelliRoberto Mancini, Mario Balotelli
Inter Milan v Manchester City – Dublin Super Cup | David Rogers/Getty Images

While playing for City in a pre-season friendly against LA Galaxy, Balotelli found himself through on goal with only the keeper to beat. Instead of slotting the ball in the bottom corner, he tried a lackadaisical trick and missed the goal entirely.

Teammates fuming and he was subbed straight after. Proper Sunday League stuff.

The Wrong Kit

Mario BalotelliMario Balotelli
Italy v Uruguay – International Friendly | Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Both Italy and Uruguay had new Puma kits to parade for the first time during their friendly in 2011. So what does Balotellit? Yes, he comes out for the second half int he old Italy kit because he ‘likes it better’.


Inter Milan's forward Mario Balotelli arInter Milan's forward Mario Balotelli ar
Inter Milan’s forward Mario Balotelli ar | FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/Getty Images

Not that hard to understand why Inter fans were fuming with this one. Never going to end well when you go on TV with the shirt of your biggest rivals on, is it?

Balotelli was handed a gift of a AC Milan shirt with his name on it, so he then pulled it on and checked himself out in the mirror. Stupid or very brave? Maybe both…


Inter Eyeing Up Summer Move for Hertha Berlin’s Matheus Cunha With Lautaro Martinez Heading for Exit

Matheus Santos Carneiro Da Cunha
Hertha BSC v 1. FC Union Berlin – Bundesliga | Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Inter are lining up Hertha Berlin star Matheus Cunha as Lautaro Martinez’s replacement with the Argentine striker edging closer to the exit door.

Martinez has been in fine form for the Nerazzurri this season, striking up a fine partnership with summer arrival Romelu Lukaku. The 22-year-old has netted 12 goals in 22 Serie A games, also laying on three assists.

Lautaro MartinezLautaro Martinez
SS Lazio v FC Internazionale – Serie A | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

He has been repeatedly touted for a move away from Inter with a host of European clubs including Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona all said to be interested. The latter are leading the race for his signature and Alfredo Pedulla has reported that an agreement is already in place between the two clubs.

This corroborates claims earlier this month that Barcelona had pencilled in a €60m-plus-two-players deal for the striker, and 90min was told back in April that the player favours a move to Camp Nou.

The former Racing Club man’s imminent departure would leave Antonio Conte in the difficult position of having to field an unsettled player when Serie A returns. Italian clubs have already voted to complete the season with 13 or 20 June cited as potential return dates.

With Martinez on his way out, Inter have turned their attentions to finding his replacement with Brazilian Cunha top of their wishlist (via Fabrizio Romano). The 20-year-old has been one of the standout performers since the Bundesliga returned earlier this month, scoring in both of Hertha’s wins against Hoffenheim and city rivals Union Berlin.

Cunha only arrived at the Olympiastadion in January from RB Leipzig after struggling to break into the first team at the Red Bull Arena. He was one of several high-profile arrivals as newly-monied Hertha flexed their financial muscles by bringing in the likes of Lucas Tousart and Tottenham target Krzysztof Piatek.


Assessing 24 of the Biggest Swap Deals in Football History

Inter Milan's Cameroonian forward Samuel
Inter Milan’s Cameroonian forward Samuel | CHRISTOPHE SIMON/Getty Images

With the coronavirus pandemic affecting the finances of every football club, it seems likely that we will see more swap deals take place in the upcoming transfer window.

And while they aren’t a common occurrence in past windows, you can still find examples of clubs looking to save money by offloading one player to sign another. It adds another element of drama to the already crazy art of negotiating moves for players, while becoming a source of entertainment of its own, as fans debate and argue over who got the better deal.

With that all said, here’s a list of the biggest and most famous swap deals that have taken place in the history of football, with an assessment on each transfer.

Peter OdemwingiePeter Odemwingie
Odemwingie scored all of his five goals for the Potters in one half-season | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

We begin with the swap deal you’ve probably forgotten, unless you’re a Stoke or Cardiff fan. It’s fair to say that neither player had quite the impact their clubs were hoping for.

While Odemwingie started off well with five goals in his first 15 games, injuries led to a diminished role for the Nigerian at the Potters. As for Jones, he failed to help the Bluebirds avoid relegation from the top flight. The striker did end up Cardiff’s top-scorer for the next season, but was soon shipped out for loan spells elsewhere.

Winner: Cardiff

UEFA Champions League"Paris St Germain v Galatasaray AS"UEFA Champions League"Paris St Germain v Galatasaray AS"
Muslera has played 365 games for Cimbom to date | ANP Sport/Getty Images

It’s rare for a swap deal to take place between two teams of different countries. But that’s what happened when Lazio arranged for Muslera’s departure to Turkey in exchange for bringing Cana to the Stadio Olimpico.

And despite the Albanian midfielder doing well in Serie A, Muslera ended up being a terrific signing for Cimbom. Still the first-choice stopper today, he’s won 14 trophies during his time at the club, and was voted the country’s footballer of the year in 2016.

Winner: Galatasaray

Yes, you read that correctly. Palace legend Ian Wright was swapped for a couple of gym weights and a bag of footballs.

Having been scouted by the Eagles, they offered to hand the non-league side gym weights and balls in exchange for the player. The England international ended up scoring 118 goals for the south London club, and was voted their Player of the Century. As for the gym weights and footballs, we’ve no idea what happened to them…

Winner: Crystal Palace

Peter CrouchPeter Crouch
Crouch played just six games for the Clarets before retiring | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

There was excitement in the air on deadline day of the 2019 January window. No, not because Lazar Markovi? was headed to Fulham.

Rather, the big move was when Crouch and cash were exchanged by Stoke for the Burnley striker Vokes. In hindsight, neither side really won the deal – Crouchy retired months after the deal, while his Welsh counterpart has only netted seven times for the Potters. Hard to pick a winner here.

Winner: Burnley (for the £8m)

Fernando TorresFernando Torres
Atléti legend Torres returned to win the Europa League | Power Sport Images/Getty Images

With Torres clearly not in the Rossoneri’s long-term plans, a move away seemed inevitable. Keen to bring him back to Los Rojiblancos, Diego Simeone traded away winger Alessio Cerci to sign the Spaniard on loan.

Despite having previously flourished in Serie A, the Italian scored once in 33 games for the club and now finds himself in Serie B. On the other hand, Torres played another 160 games for Atléti and was able to win the Europa League with his boyhood club.

Winner: Atlético Madrid

James BeattieJames Beattie
Beattie was at his most prolific at the Saints | Ben Radford/Getty Images

Having scored nine league goals in the 1997/98 Premier League season, Davies soon attracted the attention of Blackburn, who went on to send both youngster Beattie and £7.5m to the south coast in exchange for the forward.

Yet the move backfired on the Lancashire club, as Davies ended up scoring just twice in two seasons. And while Beattie needed some time to settle in, he eventually assumed the mantle of being the Saints’ star striker, netting 76 goals in 235 games before moving on to Everton.

Winner: Southampton

Jose Antonio ReyesJose Antonio Reyes
José Antonio Reyes scored seven goals in his only season at Los Blancos | Denis Doyle/Getty Images

With Reyes keen for a move back to Spain, Arsenal finally agreed to a loan-swap deal with Real Madrid, sending the winger there and gaining Júlio Baptista in return.

The Brazilian only scored three league goals in his sole season at the Emirates Stadium, and failed to make a major impact for the Gunners. Reyes on the other hand was more regularly used by Los Blancos as they went on to lift the La Liga title that year.

Winner: Real Madrid

Gianpaolo PazziniGianpaolo Pazzini
Pazzini ended up the more prolific of the duo at I Rossoneri | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

With both city rivals struggling to make it work for their Italian strikers, they decided to swap them, albeit with Inter paying an extra £5.5m for Cassano.

Yet the Nerazzurri would find the former Real Madrid forward difficult to work with, despite his seven league goals, with many questioning his fitness and work ethic. Their counterparts, however, managed to get a prolific first season from Pazzini, before his scoring touch began to diminish in later years.

Winner: AC Milan

Gylfi SigurdssonGylfi Sigurdsson
Sigurdsson became a key figure for the Swans | Stu Forster/Getty Images

In what became Mauricio Pochettino’s first signings as Tottenham manager in 2014, Gylfi Sigurðsson was swapped to Swansea in exchange for both Ben Davies and Michel Vorm.

The Icelandic star became the key midfield talisman for the Swans, with his set-pieces and creativity crucial in staying afloat in the Premier League. But considering Davies’ status as the first-choice left-back in north London, Spurs will be happy with the deal they got, given that Vorm has also served as a solid back-up option for Hugo Lloris.

Winner: Tottenham

Man Utd v ValenciaMan Utd v Valencia
Andy Cole’s goals were key to the Red Devils’ success | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It was a major surprise when Sir Alex Ferguson sanctioned the signing of Andy Cole from Newcastle United, with £6m and youngster Keith Gillespie heading in the opposite direction.

But the legendary manager would have the last laugh, as Cole scored 121 goals to help the Red Devils claim five top-flight titles in a hugely successful period. As for the Tynesiders, they weren’t able to challenge their rivals, even though Gillespie ended up becoming a decent winger at St James’ Park.

Winner: Manchester United

Tottenham's Jermain Defoe celebrates aftTottenham's Jermain Defoe celebrates aft
Defoe scored 143 goals in two spells at Spurs | AFP IOPP/Getty Images

Few swap transfers end up working out for both sides. Yet this deal ended up leaving Spurs and West Ham both happy with their respective goalscoring strikers.

Defoe would score 22 goals in his first full season at Spurs, and became the team’s chief marksman up front before he departed for Portsmouth. Meanwhile, Zamora didn’t quite reach the same heights as his predecessor, but was still a key player for the Hammers, helping the club achieve promotion in 2005.

Winner: Tottenham

AC Milan's midfielder Andrea Pirlo celebAC Milan's midfielder Andrea Pirlo celeb
Would you ever consider trading away Andrea Pirlo? | PACO SERINELLI/Getty Images

Inter fans, look away. Here’s a brief summary of how you traded away arguably the best modern Italian footballer to have played to your city rivals.

Having not impressed the Nerazzurri’s management in his 40 appearances, the Andrea Pirlo was sent across the San Siro divide and was swapped for Guglielminpietro, as well as a bit of cash. While Guly only played 30 games for Inter, Pirlo became a star for the Rossoneri and won two Champions League titles. It’s pretty easy to see who won this swap deal.

Winner: AC Milan

Michael OwenMichael Owen
Owen scored 16 goals in his only season at Los Blancos | Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

With just a year left on Owen’s deal, Real Madrid capitalised and signed the Englishman, paying just £8m and sending Núñez to Anfield in exchange.

It couldn’t have gone worse for Núñez, who injured his knee in his first day of training and never was able to get into the Reds’ first team from that point onwards.

As for his English counterpart, the striker scored 16 goals in his only season in Spain before moving to Newcastle for £17m, in what became great business for Los Blancos.

Winner: Real Madrid

Bonucci has put a disaster spell at Milan firmly behind himBonucci has put a disaster spell at Milan firmly behind him
Bonucci has put a disaster spell at Milan firmly behind him | Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

Having arrived at the San Siro for a €42m fee, Bonucci was a major disappointment for Milan. Given that he wasn’t getting any younger, the club looked for a replacement that could assume his position for the future.

Hence, the veteran was swapped back to former club Juventus for youngster Mattia Caldara, with Gonzalo Higuaín also temporarily headed to the Rossoneri. It didn’t work out well at all for Il Diavolo, as the Argentine found himself at Chelsea a few months later. And while Caldara has yet to establish himself for Milan, Bonucci has assumed his role for the Bianconeri without looking out of place. Juve definitely won this deal.

Winner: Juventus

Fabio CannavaroFabio Cannavaro
Cannavaro became crucial to Juve’s defence after the move | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Wait, Inter traded away another Italian great three years after Pirlo?

Failing to excel at the San Siro, Cannavaro was swapped for Juventus goalkeeper Fabián Carini in 2004. The Uruguayan stopper played just four games for the Neruzzurri, while the legendary defender would win two Scudetti (before the club was stripped of their titles). Still, the Bianconeri got a way better return here…

Winner: Juventus

AC Milan's midfielder Clarence Seedorf (AC Milan's midfielder Clarence Seedorf (
Seedorf lifted ten trophies at Milan | PACO SERINELLI/Getty Images

Another swap deal between the Milan clubs saw Seedorf traded to the Rossoneri, in exchange for Francesco Coco who headed to Inter. Once again, the Nerazzurri got the worse end of the deal.

Coco would fail to play regularly due to a string of injuries that curtailed his time at the club. Seedorf, however, became a legend at Milan, winning ten trophies and becoming an essential part of their success under Carlo Ancelotti.

Winner: AC Milan

Roberto CarlosRoberto Carlos
Roberto Carlos claimed Roy Hodgson’s spell at Inter ‘destroyed him’ | Ben Radford/Getty Images

Chilean star Zamorano became a transfer target for many of Europe’s elite, having scored 28 goals to help Real lift the 1994/95 La Liga title. Inter, keen to sign the striker, offered up £1m plus Carlos, who was unhappy with manager Roy Hodgson at the time.

The Nerazzurri forward wasn’t a bad player at the San Siro, but his goalscoring rate began to decrease, as the likes of Ronaldo took his first-team spot. Los Blancos, on the other hand, were delighted to end up with the Brazilian legend Carlos, who ended up playing more than 500 games for the club and was a key part of the successful ‘Galacticos’ era.

Winner: Real Madrid

Luiz would later become a teammate of Mati? during both spells at Stamford Bridge | GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

In high demand after impressing at Benfica, Chelsea acted swiftly to acquire Luiz, with then-reserve Mati? and £20m being enough to make the deal happen.

The Brazilian played 248 games for the Blues over two spells, while Mati? ended up impressing in Portugal, earning him a move back to Stamford Bridge three years after his departure. With the Blues getting the best of the duo on the pitch in England, they ultimately won the deal in the end.

Winner: Chelsea

Diego MilitoDiego Milito
Milito was a goal-scoring machine at Inter | Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

In 2009, Inter, always looking to push the boundaries of player transfers, proceeded to sign Milito and Motta from Genoa, in exchange for a small fee, four players and co-ownership of another youngster.

The two Nerazzurri signings would prove to be instrumental for the club, particularly in the 2009/10 treble-winning season. As for the Genoa quintet, many of them were shipped off to other clubs, including a young Bonucci, who would soon end up at Juventus.

Winner: Inter

Alexis SanchezAlexis Sanchez
Sánchez has not been at his best for the Red Devils | Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Remember when this was said to be a good deal for both teams? Seems like a long time ago now.

As Sánchez’s deal came close to expiring, the Gunners struck a deal with United to send the want-away Chilean north, with Mkhitaryan heading in the opposite direction. Yet neither side have emerged from the deal as the better side, given that both players are now on loan in Italy and don’t seem to have a future at either club.

Winner: Arsenal (for paying the lower wages)

Christian VieriChristian Vieri
Vieri only won one trophy with Inter despite scoring loads of goals | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

A world-record transfer at the time, Inter signing Christian Vieri to partner Ronaldo was a sign of intent and promised a successful era at the San Siro.

But despite the Italian scoring 123 goals during his time at the Nerazzurri, it was only enough to win a single Coppa Italia trophy. Given that Simeone went on to win a league and cup double with the Biancocelesti, as well as the club pocketing a huge fee at the time for Vieri, Lazio were the winners of this swap deal.

Winners: Lazio

Deco helped the Catalans win two La Liga titles and a Champions League | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Having won UEFA’s Club Footballer of the Year in 2004, Deco became a sought-after player for many European clubs. But it was the addition of Quaresma that swung the deal in favour of Barcelona, with Porto happy to obtain the services of the young Portuguese star.

Despite dazzling defences in Portugal for several seasons, Quaresma was unable to perform consistently for the Dragões. His compatriot however continued to shine on a bigger stage and helped the Blaugrana win five trophies, cementing his place as a modern midfield great.

Winner: Barcelona

Ashley ColeAshley Cole
Ashley Cole played over 300 games for the Blues after his move | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

A highly controversial deal at the time, both players were keen to leave their respective clubs and got their wish when the Gunners and Blues came together to agree the swap transfer.

While Gallas was a regular at the Emirates, his time was blemished with various incidents, such as sulking after defeat at Birmingham City. Cole, on the other hand, won nine trophies at Chelsea and was one of the first names on the teamsheet at Stamford Bridge.

Winner: Chelsea

Samuel Eto'oSamuel Eto'o
Eto’o scored plenty of goals to lead Inter to a treble in the 2009/10 season | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Having decided that Eto’o wasn’t going to fit into his system, Pep Guardiola decided to exchange the striker, with cash (and Alexander Hleb until he refused the move) for Ibrahimovi? in 2009.

The mercurial Swede had a prolific first season at Camp Nou, but wasn’t willing to play out wide to accommodate Lionel Messi and left not long after. Meanwhile, Eto’o ended up having a fantastic two seasons in Italy, scoring 53 goals in just 102 games and leading the Nerazzurri to six trophies.

Winner: Inter


Everton Make ‘Ultimatum’ Offer for Barcelona’s Jean-Clair Todibo Amid Juventus & Inter Interest

Jean-Clair Todibo
FC Internazionale v FC Barcelona: Group F – UEFA Champions League | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Everton have made a transfer offer with a catch, as they attempt to prise rising star Jean-Clair Todibo away from Barcelona with a take it or leave it offer of £22m.

The Merseyside club have just four centre-backs in their first-team squad, while only Mason Holgate, Yerry Mina and Michael Keane have played regularly in the Premier League this season.

The club sit down in 12th place in the league currently, and their final match before football was suspended in the UK was a disappointing 4-0 defeat to Chelsea.

Jean-Claire TodiboJean-Claire Todibo
DeFodi Images/Getty Images

20-year-old Todibo, a France Under-20 international and graduate of the Toulouse academy, had only played ten times for the first team before Barcelona signed him in January 2019.

He has been on loan at Schalke since January this year, and the Bundesliga side have an option to buy set at around £21m.

According to the Mail, Everton have told Barcelona of their interest in buying Todibo, although there is a condition. The Toffees have given the Spanish champions an ‘ultimatum’ to respond in the next few days, otherwise they will retract their offer of around £22m.

Barça, however, are willing to let this offer pass by, as they wait it out for the likes of Serie A duo Inter and Juventus to show interest in the talented centre back.

Schalke, for their part, are not tempted by Barcelona’s offer to make the loan a permanent deal. The German club have reportedly decided it unwise to spend that amount of money given the financial problems many clubs will find themselves in amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Barcelona meanwhile are willing to offload Todibo as part of a plan to raise at least €70m through player sales to help balance the books and set up moves for top targets Miralem Pjanic and Lautaro Martinez.

The likes of Philippe Coutinho, Arthur Melo, Samuel Umtiti and Nelson Semedo are also among the players likely to be jettisoned this summer.


Lautaro Martinez May Not Fix Barcelona’s Problems – He’ll Be the Latest Striker to End Up on the Wing

At a time when the world is filled with uncertainties, it’s almost reassuring to see that Barcelona are embroiled in a protracted transfer saga. At least some things never change.

While the possibility of Neymar returning to Camp Nou occasionally resurfaces, this summer’s permanent resident of the gossip pages is Inter’s Argentinian striker Lautaro Martínez.

Lautaro Martínez has scored 16 goals in 31 appearances for Inter prior to the suspension of play this season

A 90min exclusive revealed that Barcelona are confident of reaching an agreement with Lautaro as the Catalans desperately search for the financial means to secure his signature. However, it’s no foregone conclusion that Inter’s number ten will seamlessly slot into Barça’s frontline – partly down to Lautaro’s compatriot and, more specifically, where he plays.

Lionel Messi may turn 33 before the start of the next campaign, but La Liga’s top scorer and top assister this season has only shown signs of dipping below his stratospheric standards, rather than entering the realm of mere mortals.

The concern for Lautaro is that he will fall foul of the same fate as many other Barcelona centre forwards over the years. Namely, pushed out wide for Messi to play through the middle.

Of course, Barcelona’s number ten hasn’t exclusively been fielded in a central role – alongside Luis Suárez and Neymar he was nominally the right winger of Barça’s fabled ‘MSN’ attacking trident, with his Uruguayan teammate through the middle. But Suárez was the arguably the first of a long line of forwards afforded this role.

As Barcelona won the European Treble in 2014/15 the MSN trio scored 122 goals between them in all competitions

The latest to suffer the consequences of placating Messi has been Antoine Griezmann. The proven La Liga goalscorer hasn’t exactly set the world alight in his first campaign since arriving for north of £100m in the summer. If he had, Barcelona wouldn’t be so blatantly pursuing Lautaro.

Even in Suárez’s absence this season – following a severe knee injury in January – Griezmann hasn’t strictly been given licence to attack through the middle. Instead, the Frenchman has often found himself drifting wide on the left, with Diego Simeone’s deeply embedded defensive drills compelling him to help his full-back out of possession.

However, Griezmann is not the first, or even the most high profile, name to be pushed to the flanks in a bid to at times appease but largely get the best out of Messi.

As early as his teenage days in the youth team Messi has expressed a desire to play in the middle. When asked his favoured position he simply replied, ‘enganche’ – literally, ‘hook’ – the Argentinian term for a number ten.

Messi had his first contract at Barcelona written on a napkin at a local tennis club

Various coaches at youth and senior level had at times fielded Messi centrally but he was largely a winger before Pep Guardiola deployed him in the fabled ‘false nine’ position – dropping deep from a centre forward’s role to outnumber the opposition in midfield.

At first he wasn’t always played there but when he was, it saw the likes of Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o cast to the flanks. Two extraordinary forwards who, perhaps in any other team, would have lead the line with distinction.

The most famous case of this positional dilemma was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A classic striker who looked awkward anywhere wider than the width of the posts, Ibrahimovic blames Guardiola’s placation of Messi (and Guardiola’s character on the whole) for his single season disappointment at the Camp Nou, explaining: “Messi wanted to play centre forward and he got his way.”

The seemingly quietly-spoken Messi was the driving force behind the tactical switch, privately going to Guardiola and imploring his manager to ‘stick the others out wide’.

Ibrahimovic won La Liga in his solitary season in Catalonia but was quick to force a move in the summer

This advice was largely adhered to and Ibrahimovic was swiftly replaced with the man who had been central (quite literally) to Spain’s World Cup triumph that summer. Yet, despite being promised a central role, David Villa ultimately found himself on the left of Barcelona’s front three with Pedro the other side of Messi as Barcelona became one of the greatest club sides in the history of European football.

The team, and Messi, were able to truly thrive with players flexible enough to coalesce around the magisterial number ten. In his season and a half of European football – a worryingly small sample size which should also be cause for concern – Lautaro has provided little evidence that he could play out wide.

However, that’s not to say it’s out of the 22-year-old’s skill set. He’s formed a formidable front pairing alongside Romelu Lukaku at Inter this season, with the duo plundering 39 goals between them. And Ernesto Valverde (the Barcelona coach replaced by the incumbent Quique Setién) had experimented with a 4-4-2.

Lautaro and Lukaku have been given the nickname LuLa by the Italian media this season

But should Barcelona even be going for a player who would need to alter their game? Why not buy someone who is a wide player rather than someone who can play out wide? Perhaps the answer to that lies in the uncertainty of Messi’s future.

After a turbulent campaign which has seen dirty laundry continually aired between the club and their captain, Messi could, in theory, leave Camp Nou at the end of the season for free given the ludicrous clause willingly inserted into his contract by the club.

Perhaps the question isn’t really whether Lautaro would fit in the same team as Messi, but whether he can be the spearhead of a side in the great man’s absence.