In a game which ultimately lacks the characters of previous generations of football, there is one player who continually hit’s the headlines and is a break in the mould of the modern footballer, although not necessarily for his undoubted talent. That man is Mario Balotelli.
Since his arrival in English football in the summer of 2010, when he joined big-spending Manchester City from Serie A Champions Inter Milan for £24m, he has lit up the Premier League with some dazzling performances but has also caused plenty of controversy off the field.
During his time in Italy, Mario again was no stranger to controversy. He enraged supporters of Inter Milan by wearing the shirt of their arch-rivals AC Milan during an Italian chat show and was forced to issue an apology via the Inter website in an attempt to defuse the situation. He also had a strained relationship with his manager Jose Mourinho who accused Balotelli of lacking respect and not training hard enough and then gave him a match rating of ’almost zero’ following Inter’s 1-1 draw against Roma. It was also during this time which he drove his Mercedes into a women’s prison and when questioned by authorities for almost 30 minutes claimed he was ’curious at the fact it was a women’s prison’.
It was his move to England though which provided the catalyst for some of his more infamous antics.
One of the first things he did upon arrival in Manchester was write-off his £120,000 Audi R8, just days after having it impounded. When questioned by police in the aftermath of the incident, he was quizzed as to why he had £5000 in cash on his passenger seat to which he replied ‘because I am rich’. Balotelli has also had several of his cars impounded up to 25 times and has racked up almost £10,000 in parking fines since being in the country.
In the summer of 2011, following City’s 3-0 pre-season friendly victory over former club Inter in Dublin, Balotelli hardly endeared himself to City fans by discussing his dislike of Manchester. ‘I am not happy in Manchester.’ he told Italian TV. ‘I do not like the City, it is not to my tastes.’
He has also incurred the wrath of City boss Roberto Mancino on a number of occasions. He has been involved in several high-profile training ground incidents, coming to blows with both Jerome Boateng, Vincent Kompany and Micah Richards and was fined £300,000 for throwing darts from a window at Carrington aimed at a Manchester City youth team player in what he described as a ‘prank’. He also angered Mancini during City’s pre-season game against LA Galaxy during the clubs tour of the USA by attempting an audacious back heel when through on goal. He was promptly substituted by a furious Mancini amid boos from the crowd as ’a lesson’. He was again in Mancini’s bad books in December 2011 by this time breaking a 48-hour curfew before City’s game against Chelsea to go for a curry where he was involved in a ‘sword fighting’ incident using rolling pins.
He saved perhaps his most famous stunt though for Manchester City’s game against arch-rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford. In the run up to the game, Balotelli had once again became the subject of media headlines when he set off a firework in his house which caused a fire. Upon taunts from United fans, Balotelli opened the scoring during City’s famous 6-1 victory and emotionless, he stood and lifted his shirt to reveal the message ’why always me?’ – a statement allegedly aimed towards the media for their portrayal of him.
But despite his reputation in the media as a ’bad boy’, is Balotelli really all that bad?
He is a supporter of a number of charities both in Italy and around the World which help to provide children with support and education to give them a chance in life and is also involved with the setting up of a secondary school in a village in Sedan where one of his best friends was born and where there is no access to education for the children of the village.
He also made a donation to a local church in Manchester and at Christmas put £1000 behind the bar of a pub in Chorlton to buy everybody a round. Following the famous firework incident he became an ambassador for firework safety and is also a regular visitor to Knowsley Safari Park as he enjoys wildlife.
Despite these high profile incidents, Balotelli’s talent and character is undeniable and at only 21 he still has the potential to become even better. Some may argue ‘Super Mario’, as he is know to City fans, is misunderstood but there is also the frustration that he doesn’t focus on his football as much as he should. With 2012 now upon us who know’s what Mario has in store for us all throughout the course of the New Year but for his sake, hopefully it will be his football which makes the headlines.
I’ll leave you with the words of Roberto Mancini:
‘The problem is because of his age, he can make some mistakes. He’s Mario. He’s crazy – but I love him because he’s a good guy.’