Mario Balotelli, the clown prince of football, has had a turbulent life with an abundance of misdemeanours that have left scars all over his undeniable talent
The press condemn with a thirsty disgust his petulance and attitude, whilst ignoring the tribulations he has had to endure. To date Balotelli has been known to throw darts at a wandering youth team player at Manchester City, wear the shirt of AC Milan, live on TV, while still playing for rivals Inter Milan, be constantly criticised for lack of effort during training, have punch-ups with fellow professionals and also ‘earning’ the odd red card here and there when his fury has reached its pinnacle.
On Match of the Day you can often spot a sullen and languid figure traipsing around the pitch, seemingly shirking his responsibilities in a bid to be the most relaxed, and somehow most lauded, player in the Manchester City squad. Then, further showcasing his footballing schizophrenia, he will create a moment of excellence and continue to perplex fans, players, the media and managers alike.
However, the rage that spews from venomous fans is often simply a practice in ignorance. Behind the skulking and insolence is a young man who has had to fight against discrimination and the barrel of media hype.
Growing up as a black footballer in an often racially-tense Italy has resulted in his talent being besmirched by moronic xenophobia and an innate distrust by certain groups of fans. Born to Ghanian parents, as a child he was riddled with illness and at points doctors felt he wouldn’t survive. However he eventually got entrusted with an affluent Italian couple who took in a young Mario and nurtured him during a time when he was considered a foreigner and thus an outsider to some Italians.
Racial discrimination was never far away from Balotelli during his time playing for Inter Milan and Italy. During a game between the Nerrazzuri and fellow Serie A juggernauts Juventus, he was victim to a barrage of racial slurs from opposition fans that resulted in Juventus being fined and their fans banned from one home-game. The victimisation of Balotelli during one game was so putrid and persistent that it led to Inter chairman Massimo Morrati stating, if present, that he would withdraw his own players from the pitch in a stand-off against the disgusting verbal onslaught.
Even the honour of playing for his adopted country, Italy, was tainted with a racist rancour. On his debut a banner which bore the repulsively obnoxious words of ‘no to a multi-ethnic national team’ was hoisted in the stands by his own supporters. The distance between himself and the rest of Italy was typified when he came head to head against Italian demi-God and Roma legend Francesco Totti, who criticised Balotelli’s attitude towards fans and rivals. Again, Balotelli here being the ‘alien-outsider’ against Francesco Totti, a man heralded throughout Italy and considered a leader by many.
There is no excusing his often erratic and dangerous behaviour, but it can be rationalised. On the other side here is also a player who often sporadically donates £20 notes to Big Issue sellers at random around Manchester. Recently, after a big win at a casino, Balotelli proceeded to give £1000 of his earnings to a homeless man. These casual acts of philanthropy show signs that Balotelli, contrary to popular media opinion, is not the embodiment of evil.
Fans and pundits are quick to moralize the youngster and jump aboard their high horses with little understanding on his upbringing. People question his arrogance and fits of rage but it begs to ask the question: ‘are you surprised’? Hopefully with age, maturity and a new start, Balotelli will learn to monitor his attitude and fulfil his talent.
He needs to be embraced by a manager who donates time to his players in an almost father-like manner. Manchester City chief Roberto Mancini is known for distancing himself from players and avoiding any emotional-pact, which is possibly not the most ideal form of supervision for ‘Super Mario’.
Time will tell whether Balotelli adjusts, matures and repels the bad press nonchalantly and without vengeance. Until then he will constantly wear the ‘bad boy’ tag that so many gleefully, and conveniently, staple to this troubled talent.