Love him. Hate him. You just can’t ignore him. Yes, we all know, who I am talking about. It’s Super Mario, Mario Balotelli, the madcap maverick who plays as striker for Manchester City.
Let’s face it, the world would be a duller place without such characters in football. Mario Balotelli offers something fresh. Yes, he may be completely out of order, a maniac even, but c’mon, he is more entertaining than all those ‘holier-than-thou’ footballers we are prone to witness these days.
Let us cast our minds back to 2009, when a young, or rather younger Balotelli made his mark in the Coppa Italia clash, against arch rivals Juventus, scoring twice. With the Turin faithful, chanting rather abusively towards the young striker “There’s no black Italian’s.” Balotelli seemed unfazed at the time, with all the media attention in Italy on him, as he began to brush shoulders with the likes of Dejan Stankovic, Ivan Cordobo, Luis Figo and Javier Zanetti in Inter’s training ground.
Then Inter boss Jose Mourinho accused the young Italian striker of shunning his training schedules, and being a lazy footballer, who left the ground earlier than his more accomplished colleagues. Mourinho, at one stage had enough, and he excluded Balotelli from attending Inter’s training sessions.
His off the pitch antics made news, too. He had to pay nearly £10,000 in parking fines, along with 27 impoundings on his Maserati. If that was not enough, he left his car unattended, with £25,000 in cash just lying on the passenger’s seat. When enquired by police, he said ‘Because I can’.
Another story revolves around Balotelli’s fascination with prison women. Yes, once he and his brother trespassed into a female prison, before they were held by police.
After a league game, against AS Roma, which Inter drew 1-1, Mourinho claimed in the press, that Balotelli’s performance deserved a zero rating. He faced the wrath of the Juventus faithful again, later that year, as he made a complete meal of a Felipe Melo elbow, and went down to the ground theatrically, clutching his face. While Melo was sent off, the game drew bad blood between the sides, a game which Inter eventually lost 2-1. The relation between player and manager soured more, as Balotelli was a late surprise exclusion from Inter’s Champions League squad to face Chelsea, after an altercation. However, it didn’t stop there, as Balotelli was heavily criticized by Inter stalwarts Javier Zanetti and Marco Materazzi. Then, Mario went on to do something unthinkable, for Inter fans, as he appeared on national television, wearing Inter’s crosstown rivals’ AC Milan’s jersey.
This kept him out of the team for a while, and on his return he was in the headlines again, as he threw the Inter jersey on to the pitch, in a Champions League clash, against Barcelona, in retaliation against fans, who had booed him through the game. He was even at the end of an attempted attack from angry Inter fans. His behaviour was increasingly getting out of hand, and this seemed the last straw for Inter, as they put Balotelli on the market.
The suitors. Well, Manchester City, of course, and their new oil-bankrolled business tycoons, managed by a former Inter manager, himself, Roberto Mancini, who were looking to take the English league by storm, by signing the best players in the world, at outrageous prices.
Despite a slow start to life in the Premier League, Balotelli was back in the thick of things, as he turned hero to villain in a league match against West Brom. He crashed home his first two league goals, in England, and then got himself a red card for an altercation with Baggies midfielder Yussef Mulumbu.
He was once fined, for throwing darts at Manchester City youth players, hitting one in the eye, and was immediately fined by the club. On being asked why he did it, his response was brutally honest. He was bored. Another story says, Balotelli, after winning £25,000 in a night club, splashed the cash on a few lucky homeless in Manchester.
While his talent was obvious, so was his cockiness. As he held aloft the Golden Boy award in December 2010, he exclaimed that there was only one player in the world better than him, and that was Lionel Messi. When asked about runner up to the award, Jack Wilshere, Balotelli claimed he had never heard of him, and told the next time Manchester City meet Arsenal, he would show his award to Wilshere. Funnily, he was spotted using his iPad, when on the bench for Italy in a game against Faroe Islands.
He went on to score a fine hattrick against Aston Villa, later that month. Couple of months later, Balotelli headlines resurfaced English tabloids. He left the first leg of the Europa League match with Dynamo Kiev, after strangely claiming to have an allergy with grass. Weird, a footballer having an allergy with grass. If that wasn’t enough, Balotelli did a Jackie Chan style freekick, in the second leg, on a Dynamo player, and received his marching orders. Manchester City lost and were knocked out of Europe. He, however, put in a man-of-the-match performance in the FA Cup final win over Stoke, City’s first major piece of silverware, in over 3 decades. Previously, after the semi-final win over rivals Manchester United, he provoked United defender Rio Ferdinand, which led to a mass brawl between both sets of players.
In pre-season, Balotelli completely outraged his manager and fans, in a friendly against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Put through, and clear of the defence, Balotelli attempted a backheel, and the ball rolled wide of the post. It was a show of utter disrespect towards the opponents, and minutes later, James Milner replaced him.
That, however, did little to affect his form, as he began the 2011-2012 campaign in fine goalscoring knick, with goals against Birmingham, in the Carling Cup, and in the league against Everton and Blackburn. Mario’s next moment of madness came on the eve of the Manchester derby, against Manchester United. Balotelli lit fire to his own home, as he played with firecrackers indoors, and narrowly escaped the fire. He stayed in a posh hotel, till he found himself a new home. The match, itself was Balotelli’s headline moment. He scored the opening two goals, as Manchester City humiliated Manchester United 6-1, with Balotelli revealing the message “Why always me?”, after scoring the first. He was then involved in an incident, early in the second half, which led to the dismissal of Manchester United centre-back Johnny Evans.
A month later, at Anfield, in a pulsating 1-1 draw with Liverpool, Balotelli came on as a sub. But, in no time, he was back in the dressing room, after receiving two red cards, the second of which was for a stupid foul. He stayed on the pitch for sometime, trying to explain to Mancini, a moment captured by the video cameras, but the manager was having none of it, as he ordered his fellow Italian off the field. Then, prior to a league game against Chelsea, Balotelli broke curfew times, to go to a local restaurant, where he was involved in a mock sword-fight, with rolling pins.
On the field, however, Balotelli was scoring goals. He used, his right, shoulder, yes, you heard right, his right shoulder, to score in a 5-1 win over Norwich City. He then scored in a 2-1 loss to Chelsea, a game remembered for Balotelli being called offside numerous times.
Super Mario faced the same disciplinary issues, he had faced when he was at Inter, as he involved in training ground bust ups with teammates Vincent Kompany, Jerome Boateng and Carlos Tevez. One highly publicized bust up was that between him and Micah Richards, who the maverick Italian accused of ‘not running hard enough’. In the meanwhile, he even managed to ram his Audi R8 supercar. Sigh!
Another incident involves Balotelli and a high school kid, who came to the Manchester City training ground to take his autograph. On being asked, why he wasn’t at school, the kid replied, he was getting bullied. Balotelli summoned the kids mother, and along with them confronted the bully, in the presence of the principal, and resolved the matter. Manchester City, a little embarassed, released a statement, saying Balotelli feels strongly against such issues, and had no qualms in standing up for the bullied party.
If that was not enough, he was summoned for a high profile Mafia court in Italy. During his time with Inter, Balotelli was constantly spotted with drug cartels in Naples.
On the field, Balotelli was involved in an incident with Tottenham midfielder Scott Parker, whom he stamped, but escaped the attention of referee Howard Webb. The match, itself was decided by Balotelli’s injury time penalty, as Manchester City won 3-2. After the match, he was given a 4-match ban. After his return, he scored goals against Blackburn and Bolton. He also scored 2 goals in the 3-3 draw at home to Sunderland, a game which probably cost City the title. With Sunderland leading 3-1, and 16 minutes left, City managed to win a freekick, in a decent position, at the edge of the penalty area. Then, ensued an on field fracas between, Balotelli and left-back Aleksandr Kolarov, as to who would take the free kick. It took Vincent Kompany, the captain, to seperate his bickering players. The subsequent look on Mancini’s face was that of helplessness, as he saw his team fall from being title favorites, to being behind Manchester United.
Amidst this, Balotelli even found time to interrupt an Inter press conference, to congratulate new manager Andrea Stramaccioni.
Finally, as recently as Sunday, Balotelli unleashed his leg on Alex Song’s knee, which had it struck slightly below, would have been a career threatening injury. Luckily, for the Italian, the referee missed the incident, and he stayed on the pitch. He, however, did see red late on, after receiving two yellows, both for poor fouls on Bacary Sagna. Mancini, after the match described Balotelli as chaotic, dangerous and a birdbrain, while also stating that he absolutely loves Mario as his own son, despite all his shortcomings. He also suggested that he might not play a further part that season, and might be transfer listed at the end of the season.
He has turned his garden into a racetrack for quadbikes. He has slept with the same prostitute, Wayne Rooney once used to cheat his girlfriend. He has dated some of the hottest models in the world, in Kelly Espinoza (10 years older than him), Betty Kourakou, Melissa Castagnoli (whom Balotelli dumped via a text message), Sophie Reade (Supposedly, he slept with Reade’s best friend, and on being caught, he kicked Reade out of his house barefoot) and finally Italian supermodel, Rafaella Fico, once girlfriend of Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. He has scored some fine goals, (remember that freekick against Rubin Kazan, whilst playing for Inter), and he has some chants to his name by the City fans.
He is enigmatic, he is crazy, he is random, and that’s what makes Balotelli the personality, or rather the phenomenon, that he is today. Without him, the Premier League would be a little duller. Everyone wants him to leave Manchester City, but then, why always Mario? 🙂