Mario Balotelli. Even your Gran has heard of him.
At 22 the boy has already managed to evolve into a one man breaking news story. He is the logical development of where this adventure with modern football has deposited us, indeed where this modern world has landed us. This is the point the globe has arrived at, with its disappearing ice shelves, its radio controlled pandas and its million dollar sports pundits, who have never heard of Hatem ben Arfa. The conspicuous consumerism, the preening and the showing off, the flouting of rules, the lack of respect, the lack of identity, this floating, drifting island of avarice mentality. Balotelli, we are often told, needs an arm around his shoulder, a word of calm advice, a quiet corner to sit and take aboard some well-meant, well-aimed advice; but he seems to need this every day of his life – as many of his ilk do – and he does not get it every day. Football folk, hardened and selfish, do not have the time nor the patience for these time-consuming displays of empathy. Not every day of the week for God’s sake. They have training, they have interviews and they have Call of Duty to twiddle with.
This is when Mario Balotelli is cast off to do his own thing. Boredom, a sense of the ridiculous and a lot of money can sometimes produce amusing results.
|"Its' an allergy to what....?!"|
A frivolous cocktail, if ever there was one. Now take away parental advice, familial stability and sense of home. Throw in racism from those that pay to watch you exercise your craft, the influence of agents and hangers-on, plus an all-pervading media intrusion. Money, fame and no private life to speak of may seem like a heady mix at first, but soon – as many stars of this great sport of ours have discovered – it turns around and bites you square on the backside. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Just the ever-present popping of flashbulbs.
Mario Balotelli sells newspapers, fills webspace and turns heads. It is fashionable to either “love his idiosyncratic ways” or “lambast his idiotic selfishness”. A massive bubbling vortex of dirty water swirls around his every move. He is the catalyst of a thousand heated debates on airwaves and in pubs. He is a loon, a loner and a loose cannon. He cannot be allowed to go on like this. He cannot get away with that. He should be locked up for the other.
"I told him, if you played with me 10 years ago I would give you every day maybe one punch in your head. There are different ways to help a guy like Mario. I don't speak with him every day, otherwise I would need a psychologist...” Roberto Mancini
The Balotelli way is to shrug those muscular shoulders and lope back to his position in the centre circle, in the car park, in the lap-dancing bar (on one memorable occasion this third option was located in Merseyside, one decision that we can all question the sanity of). He wears the “I don’t care what you think” face, but he wears it as a mask. Balotelli cares, just like everybody else cares, he just cares intermittently and in greatly varying amounts. Clearly, there have been moments that even a 22 year old shouldn’t be completely proud of:
· Going to a television appearance wearing an AC Milan shirt whilst being paid to play for Internazionale. José Mourinho’s Internazionale. Imagine him showing up at Celebrity Come Dancing in one of United’s tea towels.
· Discovering a grass allergy at half time in Kiev and being sent off in the return, single-handedly scuppering City’s chances of completing a comeback that was already in full, fifth gear swing.
· Claiming not to know who Arsenal’s Jack Wilshire was after beating him to a young player trophy
· Creating a series of bathroom hijinks with his friends that eventually produced a house blaze of such impressive magnitude that he ruined the top floor of his home
· Receiving several unnecessary cards of both colours, either through an inability to walk away from trouble, a tendency to allow himself to be wound up or because he is Mario Balotelli and he does these kinds of things.
· Failing with a back-heeled goal attempt v.LA Galaxy in a pre-season game, when a simple right foot connection would have sufficed.
· Getting sent off v. Liverpool after only entering the fray after 65 minutes
· Seeing a 4th red card of his fledgling City career waved in front of his eyes, needlessly, at Arsenal in a game crucial to City’s prospects of winning the title, after a reckless challenge on Song.
“If you work with players like Zanetti, Ivan Cordoba and Marco Materazzi and you don’t learn anything, it's because you have only one brain cell" – José Mourinho
Contrast that with the oft forgotten:
|An early goal at Stamford Bridge|
- Hat-trick against Aston Villa
- The debut goal in Timisoara
- The first two Premier League goals for City v West Brom, followed immediately by a ridiculous red card
- The Man of the Match award in City’s Cup Final win over Stoke
- The blinder at Old Trafford, scoring twice and being fouled for Evans red card when through on goal
- The determined toe poke to set up Aguero’s title winning goal in the never-to-be-forgotten 94th and last minute of the 2011-12 season.
- A penchant for the most nonchalant (and 100% successful) penalties in professional football
- A goal off the shoulder against Norwich
- An injury time winner v Spurs that followed a “stamp” on Scott Parker, which produced a 4 game retrospective ban
- The double in a critical come-back game v Sunderland where he was seen fighting over the ball with Kolarov as to who should take a vital free-kick with the seconds ticking away.
- Being Greater Manchester Police’s Ambassador for Fireworks
- Being the Owner of a “Why Always Me?” t-shirt
- Having an allergy to grass
- Being unable to use training bibs successfully
As Italian football expert James Horncastle suggests, “...It seems clubs can't live with or without Balotelli.”.
It would appear too that Balotelli has a unique ability to stir strange passions amongst the faithful. Illogical feelings of warmth and goodwill. More patience than is offered to others of greater diligence. You love him, they hate him. Nobody understands. he builds us up and knocks us down. We expect nothing, he delivers generous presents. We then expect the earth. he sets light to his shower curtain. And so on until the earth creaks to a halt.
The Italian has also revealed an odd way of making good whatever he has diminished by his destructive character in the first place. The squabble over a free-kick against Sunderland (mirrored perfectly by a similar incident in an Inter game when he obstructed designated penalty taker Samuel Eto’o from taking his run up against Palermo, because it had been he, Balotelli, who had been fouled for the award. Similarly against Sunderland, Balotelli, growing bored with a succession of Kolarov freekicks that had ballooned off towards the North Stand roof, felt it was his turn for a slice of the action. On each occasion his captain, Javier Zanetti and Vincent Kompany respectively, was moved to frog-march the non-comprehending Italian away from the situation, like the ball-hog on the school field, who finally strains the patience of the rest of the troupe. Do as you’re told or I’ll have to lamp you one, the gentle mannered team leaders might have been whispering to him, as they dragged him away; the stiff reluctant body language told us all we needed to know.
Many feel the Premier League is no place, just as the harsh world of Serie A was no place, for this kind of post pubescent delinquent tantrum. As Martin Samuel stated recently in The Mail, “Balotelli wants to operate beyond the strictures of the team ethic...the cost of this is beginning to outweigh the benefit.” Sandro Mazzola, that great old man of Italian football talks of “making a leap of quality” in a footballer’s maturity, but this in reference to Mirko Vucinic of Juventus, who has reached the ripe old age of 28. In that case, a slight wait might be on the cards for Balotelli-watchers.
But in a flash of brilliance, with a swipe of that ultra nonchalant right foot, he produces something akin to the football crown jewels, ornate decoration that turns the head, turns the tide and turns the game. His is the magic wand, the orb, the bejeweled scepter. His is the wonky temperament that you cannot take your eyes off for a second. The sloping shoulders, the dough eyes of the scolded puppy, the toothy grin of the kid in the sweetshop.His is the awkward frame that carries the MCFC burden of history, for City supporters have always loved a maverick, right from Billy Meredith's days. They have dotted the club's history like ants on a leaf. Tony Coleman, Stanley Bowles, Rodney Marsh through to the likes of John Burridge, Maurizio Gaudino and Andy Morrison. City wouldn't be City without the smattering of loose cannons.
|"Who you think you are, Roberto Mancini?"|