LONDON (AP) — Back in Italy after a turbulent period in England, Mario Balotelli has been voted player of the week in the Associated Press global football rankings for scoring twice in his first game for AC Milan.
Balotelli was the clear winner with 181 points from AP's panel of 22 global football journalists, 64 points ahead of another player who moved in the January transfer window, Frenchman Moussa Sissoko, who scored twice on his debut for Newcastle against Chelsea.
Bundesliga leader Bayern Munich topped the team rankings as it continued to show total domination of the German league, with English Premier League leader Manchester United in second place. Usual AP rankings leaders Barcelona and Lionel Messi were punished for average performances in Spain.
Will Tidey of the San Francisco-based Bleacher Report said no one should be surprised at Balotelli's performance. "How predictable that the enigmatic Mario Balotelli should twice on his Milan debut put in a man-of-the-match performance and highlight just how brilliant he is, just a matter of days after Manchester City decided he wasn't worth putting up with anymore," Tidey said.
Balotelli scored a stoppage-time penalty to give Milan victory over Udinese on Sunday, days after leaving Manchester City and a seemingly endless series of scandals and misbehavior. Bayern Munich's Croatia international Mario Mandzukic jumped from eighth place last week to third after scoring twice in a 3-0 away victory against Mainz. The result opened a 14-point gap at the top of the league.
With 113 points, Mandzukic was just four points behind Sissoko. Panelists award 10 points for their top player and top team, falling to one point for the 10th-placed team. Two new voters, Soeren-Mikael Hansen of Denmark's Politiken newspaper and Bundesliga.com writer James Thorogood, joined the AP panel of global football writers this week.
"Keeping Mario Gomez, one of Europe's most prolific strikers, out of the Bayern first team is not an easy feat to do," Thorogood said, "but Mario Mandzukic is making it look easy with five goals to his name since the winter break. The Croatian's added dynamism is a weapon Munich didn't have in their arsenal last season and, courtesy of his two well-taken goals against Mainz, the 26-year-old now leads the Bundesliga goal-scoring charts."
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, with 13 goals this season, was voted into fourth place, clearly ahead of Tottenham's Gareth Bale, who received widespread praise for his glittering performance and winning goal against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
"Gareth Bale has reached 11 goals in the Premier League, his best mark so far," said Tito Puccetti of ESPN in Argentina. "He'll certainly be the player sought after by the top teams next summer." Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News said the Welshman should be considered as one of the world's top attacking midfielders.
"Bale consistently sets a relentless pace and this weekend scored a remarkable winning goal, his 13th for Spurs," said Bondy. Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Juventus and Borussia Dortmund's Poland striker Robert Lewandowski were in sixth and seventh, with a new face, Colombia and Porto striker Jackson Martinez, being picked out in eighth place. Martinez has been linked with several big money moves to England and Germany.
Leonardo Bertozzi of ESPN in Brazil said Martinez' performance in Portugal at the weekend was impressive. "Martinez was outstanding with a hat trick in the team's 4-0 win over Vitoria de Guimaraes, his best showing for the Dragoes (Dragons) this season," Bertozzi said.
Lionel Messi, usually in top place, could manage only ninth and a meager 31 points. With Bayern and United filling the top two team spots, Borussia Dortmund underlined the strength of the Bundesliga this season by finishing third, just eight points behind the English club.
Paris Saint-Germain was fourth after a high-profile week that culminated in an impressive 4-0 away victory over Toulouse. "Chelsea, which I grudgingly let back in to my top 10 last year is banished again," said Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the United States. "This opens up a spot for PSG, which may have had the most interesting week of the season with its David Beckham signing."
Beckham joined the Qatar-owned club until the end of the season. AP Global Football Rankings for week ending Feb. 3. (Previous week's rankings in parentheses) Players: 1. Mario Balotelli, 181 points. 2. Moussa Sissoko, 117.
3. Mario Mandzukic (8), 113. 4. Wayne Rooney, 105. 5. Gareth Bale, 70. 6. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 49. 7. Robert Lewandowski, 45. 8. Jackson Martinez, 43. 9. Lionel Messi (1), 31. 10. Daniel Sturridge, 29.
Teams: 1. Bayern Munich (3), 164 points. 2. Manchester United (4), 130. 3. Borussia Dortmund (4), 122. 4. Paris Saint-Germain, 97. 5. Newcastle United, 69. 6. Napoli (5), 67. 7. Juventus, 66. 8. Granada, 59.
9. AC Milan, 51. 10. PSV Eindhoven, 45. Based on 22 voters, using 10 points for top to 1 point for bottom place.