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The curious case of Mario Balotelli



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Mario Balotelli wasn’t even playing. At least in Turin anyway. But that didn’t stop a section of Juventus fans singing: “If you jump, Balotelli dies” during last Sunday’s mind-numbing 1-0 win over Udinese.

One columnist tried to explain the incident away by citing a famous novel by Alberto Moravia, one of Italy’s greatest novelists, in which the protagonists are so bored they end up doing inexcusable things. Another simply reasoned that the fans under scrutiny were merely readying themselves for Inter and Balotelli’s visit to the Olimpico on December 5.

The chant, while not considered racist because it didn’t to refer to the colour of Balotelli’s skin, was dealt with quickly and robustly if not a little confusingly. Juventus were fined €20,000 by the league’s disciplinary commissioner who deemed the chant “insulting” while also saying that it “incites” violence.

The sentence was so swift in coming perhaps because of the racial abuse Balotelli suffered in Turin during the last Derby d’Italia in April, which led to Juventus being compelled to play one match behind closed doors.

Lost in all of this was the rather curious news that Bologna were not in fact sanctioned despite the clearly audible monkey chants directed at Balotelli by a minority of their fans during Saturday’s match against Inter at the Renato Dall’Ara.

Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Blanc, the Bianconeri’s newly elected President, came out to reiterate the club’s commitment to being “in first place” in the fight against every form of discrimination. Luigi Garlando, one of La Gazzetta dello Sport’s chief football writers, also noted “a black player like Momo Sissoko has a cordial relationship with the Juventus fans.”

Inter took a line of their own. Javier Zanetti promised to lead his side off the pitch if similar chants are heard at the Olimpico on December 5, something he didn’t do when Messina’s Ivorian defender Marco Zoro was racially abused by a number of Inter fans in 2005.

Somewhat embarrassingly, a section of Juventus’ travelling support repeated the chants during Wednesday’s Champions League match against Bordeaux, prompting UEFA to launch its own investigation.

What has become overtly clear over the last week is the need for consistency when dealing with matters of this nature. It’s time the league adopted a clear definition of what discrimination actually constitutes and designed a strategy to clamp down on it. If this means suspending a game, how will TV companies and sponsors be affected? Surely the victim comes first or is that a little too idealistic? These questions need honest answers rather than ones simply predicated on self-interest.

Back to Balotelli’s own somewhat special case, one of the last people to comment on the incident was Cristiano Lucarelli, the Livorno striker famed for his left-wing political views, who revealed he has also been subjected to the “If you jump” song. “Let’s say that the chant in itself is not racist, but people who are not well-liked come to be identified with it. So that chant becomes a form of discrimination. Balotelli for the colour of his skin. Lucarelli for the colour of his politics.”

Asked if he would suspend a game in the event of indecent chants, Lucarelli replied: “After 15 years there isn’t a song that offends me anymore. But he is young and the racial discrimination is terrible. He must be protected, also psychologically. But there is one thing I would like to say to Balotelli. If he were a poor player they wouldn’t sing anything of this nature.”

The question of protection is an interesting one especially given the way Jose Mourinho has treated Balotelli over the last few months. Mourinho has criticised the 19-year-old’s attitude, saying that he is the personification of a generation of young footballers who expect a lot for doing very little, thinking they have already made a success of themselves, driving around in Ferraris which they haven’t yet earned with performances on the pitch.

Following Inter’s 1-1 draw with Roma on November 8, Mourinho said: “Balotelli was terrible today, close to zero.” Still all high and mighty, the Special One made no secret of his anger on hearing last week that Balotelli told a group of kids at a charity event that he actually supports Inter’s rivals Milan. “If a player goes and loses two, three or four hours doing a fantastic thing for the people, I don’t understand why he has to carry the press behind him and give an interview.”

At the same press conference, Mourinho insisted he is the best sports psychologist he knows. However, in constantly questioning Balotelli’s character and knowing just how influential his words actually are, isn’t Mourinho making it easier for ignorant fans to continue their discrimination against Super Mario?

Whatever you think about Balotelli – whether it’s his getting sent off against Rubin Kazan, his arguing over a penalty-kick with new team-mate Samuel Eto’o, or the world-class performance he put in against Genoa that led Beppe Bergomi to call him a unique goalscorer among Italian strikers – Mourinho should be doing what Fabio Capello did for Antonio Cassano at Roma; yes, reproaching him when he is in the wrong, but also letting other more petty things go and ultimately ensuring the public don’t forget his talent and immense potential.

Talking points

  • With the pressure on following Tuesday’s crushing 2-0 defeat to Barcelona, Inter opened up an eight-point gap at the top of Serie A thanks to a 1-0 win at home to Fiorentina. Diego Milito’s 84th minute penalty was enough to separate the two teams, giving Inter plenty of breathing space going into next weekend’s Derby d’Italia against Juventus who lost 2-0 away to Cagliari.
  • More questions are being asked about Ciro Ferrara’s ability to lead Juventus to the Scudetto after a second straight defeat. Having spent nearly £70m on new players in the summer, the board were expecting more and the likelihood of Italy boss Marcello Lippi taking over from Ferrara following the World Cup next summer appear ever greater.
  • In a weekend full of rivalry, the Derby della Lanterna between Genoa and Sampdoria did not disappoint with three goals and three red cards. After doing the double last year, Genoa showed why, on their day, they are arguably the best football side in Italy, winning 3-0, albeit thanks to two penalties.
  • Lazio’s miserable season continues after a stalemate at home to fellow strugglers Bologna. The Biancocelesti have not won any of their last 12 games in Serie A and it seems incredibly likely that Davide Ballardini won’t get to eat the Christmas panettone in the capital. Expect one of Sinisa Mihajlovic, Mario Beretta and Walter Zenga to be named as his replacement if Lotito’s feet become too itchy in the next few days.
  • Being “afraid of success” certainly isn’t a recipe for survival, but that’s what Siena are suffering from according to new boss Alberto Malesani. Just days after being ignominiously knocked out of the Coppa Italia by third division side Novara, Siena went down to a 2-1 defeat away at newly promoted Bari.
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