|Hit or miss?|
Mario Balotelli, beloved of most if not all Manchester City supporters for the role he played in the Great Adventure, has long been a one man breaking news story. And now that story appears to be breaking all over Liverpool, a place dangerously close to Manchester, featuring a team dangerously close to Manchester City in the current pecking order.
So just what are we meant to make of this?
Balotelli is the logical development of where our adventure with modern football has deposited us all, indeed where this modern world in general has landed us all. This is the dizzying point the globe has arrived at, with its rapidly disappearing ice shelves and its radio controlled pandas. 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.
Sadly footballers are often not very far from some of the more distasteful moments around us. Mario Balotelli, we have often been told, is one of those man-boys, who needs an arm around his shoulder, a word or three of calm advice, a quiet corner to sit and take aboard some well-meant, well-aimed bons mots; 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 easily empathise with this kind of a predicament. They have rigorous training to come through unscathed, they have interviews with tricky journalists to negotiate and they have Call of Duty to twiddle with into the small hours.
Traditionally this is where the likes of Mario Balotelli have been cast off to do their own thing. Boredom, a heightened sense of the ridiculous and a lot of money can produce some rare old hijinks. In Balotelli's case this has involved some of Manchester City's most memorable moments over recent years.
Liverpool will be well aware that Balotelli sells newspapers, fills webspace and turns heads in equally vast numbers. 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. He is a prince, a magician and a conjurer, an untouchable master of the round ball.
"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 into position in the centre circle, in the club's closed car park, or in the late night lap-dancing bar (on one memorable occasion this third option was located in Merseyside of all places).
If Mario wears the "I don’t care what you think" face, he wears it as a mask. Balotelli cares, just like everybody else cares, he just cares intermittently and in vastly varying amounts. Clearly, there have been moments that even a young man of 24 shouldn’t be completely proud of. Many will remember the obvious moments like going to a television appearance wearing an AC Milan shirt whilst being paid to play for Internazionale. José Mourinho’s Internazionale. Or discovering a wholly improbable grass allergy at half time in Kiev and being sent off in the return game, single-handedly scuppering City’s chances of completing a comeback that was already in full, fifth gear swing. Or claiming not to know who Jack Wilshire was when pitted against the Arsenal youngster for a young player of the year award.
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. 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 versus Liverpool -of all teams - after only entering the fray after 65 minutes.
"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
The list, you see, is almost endless, as are the possibilities of what might happen when Balotelli descends upon Merseyside. As the owner of a Why Always Me t-shirt, as Greater Manchester Police's Ambassador for Firework Safety, Balotelli clearly has a sharp sense of the ironic. He is one of football's lost mavericks, a young lad with the physique of a giant and the brain of a teenager about to empty out some window boxes on his way back from the pub.
Many felt that the Premier League would be no place, just as the harsh world of Serie A was no place, for this kind of individual. As Martin Samuel stated 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. In that case, a slight wait might be on the cards for Balotelli-watchers as they train their binoculars on the banks of the River Mersey.
Whatever happens next, the followers of Liverpool will not forget the time Mario Balotelli pulled on the red shirt. Indeed, they might even find themselves singing daft songs about it.