Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWhich Mario Balotelli Will Win? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Which Mario Balotelli Will Win? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Which Mario Balotelli Will Win?

Mario Balotelli, the twenty year-old Italian starlet of Ghanaian decent, portrayed by many as football’s answer to a pantomime villain, undoubtedly talented but making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Characters of Balotelli’s mould are not uncommon to English football, Eric Cantona and Stan Collymore both had their fair share of controversy while applying their trade in the Premier League. An outstanding footballer, the cause of a manager’s headache, a teammate and fan’s nightmare, but the media’s dream. Which Baltoelli will prevail?

His journey began in Palermo, Italy where he was born to Ghanaian immigrants, but after suffering from life-threatening health problems in his early years and living in cramped conditions, his biological family agreed to entrust him to the Balotelli family of Brescia. His football career would begin at a club currently in Italy’s Lega Pro Prima Divisione, Lumezzane. After gaining his initial first team appearance at the tender age of fifteen, he would shortly attract the attention of Italian powerhouses Inter Milan. Mario’s life was soon to take a dramatic twist, and he would soon make national headlines after being pivotal in a dramatic 3 -2 away victory for Inter, scoring twice against Turn giants Juventus in a Copa Italia quarter-final.

Balotelli would soon become the jewel of Italian football, becoming the youngest Inter Milan player to score in the Champions League and scoring further important goals for the Milan side in the Serie A. The plaudits he received across the Italian media were also met with opposition, some of which became apparent in April 2009, where after scoring an equalizing goal in a 1 – 1 draw again against Juventus, racist chanting was directed towards him from sections of the Juventus crowd. Just as the Balotelli media storm for his outstanding ability with a football was gathering pace, at the same time another more sinister picture was being portrayed by the Italian media. Italian football has been plagued by racism for a number of years, but this time it was directed at a player who was due to play for the Italian national side known as the Azzurri. To further ignite the media storm surrounding Balotelli, was a legal battle caused by his biological parents asking to regain his custody. The reply from Balotelli would be that his biological parents were purely “glory hunting” and only gained interest in him after his success and coverage due to football.

The pressure of performing on the pitch, while dealing with constant headlines involving racism and his family life, had become what appeared too much for the budding wonderkid. From this point on, Balotelli’s footballing life in Milan, would be plagued with headlines and for all the wrong reasons. The striker’s relationship with no nonsense manager Jose Mourinho would become increasingly strained, leading to Mario being excluded from the first team in the second half of January 2010 due to an apparent refusal to give appropriate effort in training sessions. These actions would see a backlash from experienced team members such as Luis Figo and Javier Zanetti, and would increasingly strain the status-quo in the Inter Milan dressing room. Once back on the pitch Balotelli would yet again face a tirade of racist abuse from Juventus supporters and would involve himself in persistent cases of miss-conduct with opponents, culminating in being given a zero rating by manager Jose Mourinho for feigning an injured face after Juventus midfielder Felipe Melo elbowed him in the chest.

Balotelli’s antics on and off the field were becoming more and more erratic. If Balotelli’s days at Inter were not already numbered, his decision to publically wear Inter rivals AC Milan’s jersey on an Italian television show confirmed he had to exit for the Inter faithful. In the following month, further persistent displays of disobedience towards manager and team-mates alike, including throwing the Inter shirt to the floor in response to booing from his own supporters in the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona, would signal the end for Mario Balotelli’s Inter Milan career. On the 10th August 2010 big spending Manchester City would sign the young Italian for an estimated £24million.

So what do we make of Balotelli today? I sit here reflecting on exactly twelve months since Mario Balotelli arrived on English shores and the argument of spoilt kid or a rough diamond waiting to explode on to the Premier League is still rife in the British media. The talent that Balotelli has is undoubted and he was rewarded for that by receiving the Golden Boy Award in December 2010, making him the best under 21 player in Europe. However, like in Italy his name is surrounded by controversy. In Italy you can at times have excused Balotelli’s actions due to the pressure he had to handle as a teenager with the world of football at his feet and the torment he faced from consistent racist abuse. However, now at twenty the childish antics he has become infamous for are unacceptable. In the past twelve months he has been investigated by Manchester City for throwing darts at youth team players at City’s Carrington training academy, has been exposed in the media for openly slating the city he plays in and makes constant headlines for jibes at opposition players and managers alike. More worrying for Manchester City manager Mancini, his antics have begun to creep into his on field displays, including sparking a brawl after the 2011 FA Cup semi-final against rivals Manchester United and more recently being hauled off the pitch during a pre-season friendly against LA Galaxy. Mancini suggested Balotelli was not taking the game serious enough following a failed attempted showboat rather than scoring for the Manchester side.

All this and Roberto Mancini still shows faith in him. The picture we are starting to get is one of Mancini seeing himself as a father figure; a figure who can tame the beast as so to speak. Balotelli has the potential to make a real impression on English and European football, the whole country can see that, but one gets the impression that Mancini’s patience is running thinning. Mancini’s handling of Balotelli’s petulance in the pre-season game in the USA, was a powerful message that no individual is more important than the team. Couple this with the arrival of Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid for £38million and it could be the well needed wakeup call Mario needs.

This is a turning point for Balotelli. If he takes heed of his manager’s warning and under guidance from Mancini starts to do his talking on the pitch with his feet, rather than becoming famous for the controversy he creates, he could become one of Italy’s most important players in coming years. If not, he could be faced with the same reaction that Jose Mourinho gave him at Inter Milan and Balotelli could soon be off to pastures new. It’s infuriating for a manager and fans to see a player with the world at his feet, who has an opportunity to live the life of a successful European footballer, a dream which thousands of youths ever fail to experience, only to throw it all away. The real question is, ten years along the line will we be viewing Balotelli as the talent that could have been? Or will be congratulating a player for fighting his demons and celebrating his achievements on the field? Will he become City’s Eric Cantona? Or will he fall into the history books as a troubled player who disappears into the abyss of “nearly” players? Only time will tell if Mancini’s faith in Batotelli is repaid, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s was in Cantona.

David Philip Harrison

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