Moise Kean: Cristiano Ronaldo’s heir or just another Mario Balotelli?
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Cristiano Ronaldo and Mario Balotelli are exceptionally gifted footballers. Only one has an exceptional attitude. While Ronaldo defies adversity, working tirelessly to master his craft, Balo sulks. Ronaldo would never dream of wearing a tee shirt asking, "Why always me?" Moise Kean stands at the crossroads in his career. Will he follow Ronaldo's path or Balotelli's?
Balo’s recent Italy snub came as a surprise. The maverick forward put himself back in contention for the national team with impressive displays for Marseille. He plundered five goals in seven appearances before the international window. Roberto Mancini, who twice managed the mercurial star at Inter and Manchester City, looked away.
The Azzurri manager focussed on two Serie A shining lights, Fabio Quagliarella and Kean. Quagliarella's form is the product of nearly two decades' experience. The 36-year-old Sampdoria forward is enjoying a career renaissance but his tank is running dry. Kean turned 19 a month ago. The tank is overflowing and his form is the product of raw, natural ability.
Mancini threw Kean into the fire, testing his resolve in a Euro 2020 qualifier versus Finland. The teenager etched his name in history, becoming the youngest Azzurri to find goal in a competitive game for the senior squad, poking home a shot to clinch the 2-0 victory.
Despite the youngster only starting twice for Juventus, Mancini showed faith. Even though he played out of position on the flank while Ciro Immobile started centrally, he delivered. Poor decision-making by teammates prevented him from making a bigger impact in the first half.
Firing home with 16 minutes to go, Kean broke Bruno Nicole's 61-year-old record. Nicole played for Padova, Juve, Mantova, Roma, Sampdoria and Alessandria in a 14-year career but never added to his international tally. The pressure was on Kean to follow up in his second outing. In style, he took a superb finish during the 6-0 romp over Liechtenstein. No one Kean's age ever scored in back-to-back games for the senior side. No one, young or old, did so for Italy in nearly two years.
It's hard to imagine 2019 starting any better for Kean. He began by dumping Bologna from the Coppa d'Italia. Then he scored a brace and won a penalty in the 4-1 win against Udinese. Resting, Ronaldo was pictured in the stands next to Paulo Dybala, enthusiastically mimicking the step-overs Kean pulled off in the run-up to his second goal. First steps down the right path?
Against Empoli, Massimiliano Allegri turned to his talented forward again. Three minutes after coming on for Blaise Matuidi, Kean delivered. Mario Mandzukic knocked down a long ball, leaving it for the 19-year-old to trundle in with a long, bouncing shot that appeared to be slightly deflected.
That strike took his Serie A tally to eight. He is the youngest to reach such heights since Balotelli in 2009, when the latter was 18. Kean was less than a year older. The comparisons are inevitable.
Kean even imitated Balo's celebration against Germany at Euro 2012. Both are represented by the arch-agent Mino Raiola. That's where the parallels end. The pair exhibit different personalities and styles.
Kean's potential is limitless. He combines excellent physical tools and technique with vision and natural finishing ability. A pacy forward with quick feet to match his speed off the ball, Kean can play on the wing. Balo is strictly a middle man.
The most important difference is that Moise Kean isn't carried away by the hype. If he maintains a level head, Cristiano will be waiting at the end of the road to practice crossover moves.