Why Always Him?
In a first for this feature, I'm going to be looking at something that was touched upon last week. In the past, we've taken a fresh look at a new topic each time, however this week, I want to provide a specific example of what Mr Graham was talking about last week when he discussed personalities in football. If you need a reminder of last week's offering, it can be found by clicking here.
Recently, one man in the English top flight has really the dominated headlines, and to mention him in the same sentence as the word 'personality' does something of a disservice to the term in the first place. He divides opinion greatly. He is entertaining, stupid, reckless and charasmatic all at the same time. He is, of course, Mario Balotelli.
The man really needs no introduction, but as I'm here, I'll provide him with one anyway.
Born August 12th, 1990 in Palermo (christ, yes, he's only 21), Mario was the child of two Ghanian immigrants, but due to extensive health problems and the family's relative poverty, he was put into fostering at the age of three. His birth parents were to later get in touch once he had become famous, leading him to call them 'gloryhunters'. At the age of 18, Balotelli was allowed to claim Italian citizenship, having been ineligable until that point due to the fact that he was never actually adopted by his foster family.
Balotelli started his career at Lumezanne, before having an unsuccessful trial at Barcelona. It was four years ago that, following that trial, the young Italian joined Inter.
Under the guidance of the man who would become is manager at Manchester City, Roberto Mancini, Balotelli impressed during his time at the San Siro, however when the gaffer parted company with the Nerazzurri, the centre forward's discipline left the club with him. The incoming Jose Mourinho, widely recognised as one of the best man-to-man motivators in the game, couldn't deal with the fiery Italian, and it ended with Balotelli being excluded from the first team in 2009.
While I'm not here to simply retell the story of the Manchester City frontman, and we haven't even got into the entertaining stuff yet, it is worth remembering that Balotelli is only 21. His time at Inter was blighted by intense racism from Juventus fans, even during games not involving Inter. It can't have been easy to be the subject of such vile discrimination at a young age, and although I'm not saying that his behaviour is forgivable, he should perhaps be granted at least a small amount of mitigation for what he had to endure.
Things would get worse for the youngster before they would get better. After being chastised by his own team-mates at the San Siro, a statement through the Inter website saw him try to make the piece with his own supporters after an incident in which he was seen wearing an AC Milan shirt on television.
"I am sorry for the situation that has been created recently. I am the first person who has suffered because I adore football and I want to play, and now I am waiting in silence so I can return to being useful to my team. I want to put the past behind me, look to the future and concentrate on the upcoming commitments and make myself ready."
If we think that Lee Clark's antics outside of Wembley Stadium were bad, this was on national television. Despite getting back in the team, he was widely villified for throwing his shirt to the floor at the end of a Champions League semi final after being bood by his own fans. When said fans tried to attack him after the game, the writing was on the wall for Balotelli, and he would soon be on his way to be reunited with Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.
Now, for fans who don't necessarily follow the global game, Balotelli's move to England should have been a dream come true. There are a lot of terms that can be thrown at him, and in fairness, a lot should stick. Renegade, maverick, extrovert are but just a few, and idiot probably wouldn't go amiss either. All of the above could also be applied to his league debut in which he bagged a brace, before being sent off. But, although there is a lot to admire from him on the pitch, I don't want to get in to how good he is, or can be, as it is what happens off of the field that truly makes him interesting.
Roberto Mancini seems a hard man to please. Infact, quickly getting back to on-field antics, Mario did everything in his power to wind up his boss in a pre-season encounter when he chose to pirouette and backheel a shot wide of the goal in America. Mancini was furious and subbed him immediately, although he has more recently stuck up for his young striker.
"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."
Within days of signing for City, Balotelli was involved in a car accident. When police officers approached his car, they noticed that he had £5,000 on the passenger seat. For anyone else, this would have been a worry, and the thought of explaining it to police may make some people a bit nervous. When they asked Balotelli why he had it, he simply responded, "because I'm rich". Say what you like about him, and many have, including that he is irresponsible and immature, but if you ask me, that's the answer of a hero.
Weeks later, rumour has it that when driving through the streets of Manchester, Mario encountered a young boy who should have been in school. Rather than just drive past, he stopped to ask why the boy was skiving. After discovering that the young lad was missing class due to bullying, he drove him to school and demanded to see the headmaster, before staying until the issue was resolved between the two lads. Rumours that the absentee is now the most popular kid in his year are unconfirmed, yet probably not too far off the mark.
Between using his iPad on the bench during an Italy international, driving into a women's prison and giving £1,000 to a homeless man after a good night at the casino, it seems like the Italian has rarely been out of the headlines since this season began, but the question is, is that really a bad thing?
We have always embraced characters in the beautiful game. Paul Gascoigne was a national treasure, and a large part of that was due to his personality. Granted, things haven't worked out all that well for Gazza in later life, but who could forget the booking that he received for showing a yellow card to a referee when he dropped said card? And could you imagine someone like Michael Owen celebrating scoring the wondergoal past Scotland in Euro 96 with the dentist's chair like Gazza did? No, me neither.
In a time when the personality is being stripped from the game, as Michael rambled superbly about last week, players like Balotelli are becoming a rare breed. While many choose the route that the afore-mentioned Michael Owen chose, and that's no bad thing, the guy seemingly has the social skills of a carpet. As long as Balotelli causes no-one any serious harm, then I can only applaud him for keeping us so entertained. He is, as I've seen more than one of the many 'hacks' on Twitter describe him, a journalist's dream. Okay, I know that he threw darts at the Manchester City youth team, and I am in no way condoning dangerous behaviour to that extent, but the majority of his hijinks so far have been pretty harmless.
His most recent encounter with the back pages saw him light fireworks in his own bathroom, before setting fire to a couple of rooms in the house. However, that only serves to ask questions of people in high-paying jobs in this country, as he was unveiled as an ambassador for firework safety days afterwards. Perhaps someone in the Manchester area has something of a sense of humour.
That's probably enough rambling for me, but I honestly would like to know whether you would welcome someone like 'Super Mario' to our club, given the chance to bring him here. I honestly think that he is in a totally different world to the disruptive characters such as the El Hadji Diouf of the world, and there doesn't appear to be the same malice when he is causing problems and hitting the headlines.
I, personally, would love to see such a character plying their trade in the famous red and white of Sunderland AFC, and am eager to know if you all feel the same way. The fact that he has started to show why Manchester City paid over 20m euros for him is a welcome bonus on top. Whether things work out for Balotelli or not at the Etihad may well depend on Mancini's ability to keep his frontman out of trouble, but we will get to enjoy him either way. If he concentrates fully on his game, City will have a magnificent player on their hands, but if he can't get him to focus, you can be sure that we will have plenty of entertaining stories to read for the foreseeable future.
His t-shirt against Manchester City read, 'Why Always Me?', and there is plenty of speculation as to whether he was referring to him scoring the goal, or constantly being the subject of conversation. Why always you Mario? It's because you're bloody brilliant.