Mario Balotelli: Is he finally growing up?
A few days ago, the Daily Mail released photos of Mario Balotelli posing with his girlfriend Fanny Neguesha at Lake Garda in Italy’s north. You haven’t seen the pictures yet?
After you have finished staring at his girlfriend and done your customary Google Image search (oh, don’t lie! I know you have), allow me to bring you back to the matter of hand. Thinking aloud for a moment here, I cannot help but wonder what the striker is doing hugging his Belgian girl sweetly on the shores of the lake.
There’s no pictures of him flinging dynamite into Italy’s largest lake, no long-lens snapshots of him smoking shisha on the lake banks. All there is, apart from the the standard holiday montage, is one of him in some rather short black shorts. What we see of Balotelli in those images is a perfectly normal holiday that any footballer would embark on once he had finished his club duties and in the case of Balotelli, national service.
But Balotelli doesn’t do normal, does he? Less than a year ago, the English tabloids would lie in wait, waiting to capture his next goof-up for all the world to see. Judging from the number of exposés he did receive, they did not have to wait for long between one misdemeanour and the next. There was always a fresh supply of ‘Balotellisms’ with which to furnish the media machines, whether it was Mario and his friends setting his house on fire after lighting up a few firecrackers and his inability to wear a training bib while warming up for Manchester City to his very frequent arguments with Roberto Mancini both on and off the pitch and his now-famous “Why Always Me” gesture which you can now actually buy on line.
Surely, this isn’t the same Mario Balotelli who left Manchester City last January to play for AC Milan in his homeland? Well, yes and no. Balotelli does not have a twin (he does have a brother, though) who has taken his place with Miss Neguesha. The difference between now and then is that he has grown up.
And because of that, he now stands on the cusp of achieving the greatness that people predicted he would when he began playing football in 1998.
But while he has changed, how has that happened? This was after all a striker even the famed Jose Mourinho could not tame during his time at Inter Milan, a player who had been told to grow up by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a man who was treated the same way Mancini would treat one of his own children when he was at City.
“I told him, if you played with me 10 years ago I would give you every day maybe one punch in your head. There are different ways to help a guy like Mario. I don’t speak with him every day, otherwise I would need a psychologist, but I speak with him because I don’t want him to lose his quality. If Mario is not one of the best players in the world it will be his fault, because he has everything. Mario can be one of the top players in Europe. I don’t want him to lose his talent.”
- Roberto Mancini
The problem, as it always is in modern-day football, stems from various sources.
Athletes are born, not made, it is said and unfortunately for Balotelli, he was born to a Ghanaian mother in a nation where racism still prevails. Balotelli had experienced it several times in the past when he was playing for both Inter Milan and Italy. Small wonder then that he was mistreated just because he was different, and acted out the way he did.
Then there is his upbringing. His biological parents could not afford to keep him and that meant he was fostered with Italian parents when he was three years old. Being separated from one’s parents is akin to a nail being torn from its finger and in Balotelli’s case, that wound was made even deeper when his biological parents only asked for him back when he attained fame and fortune. Like Frodo Baggins’s knife wound at Weathertop in The Lord of the Rings, some wounds never heal and we cannot fully understand the pain he does feel.