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By Matthew Handley
He came. He saw. He had an allergic reaction to grass. He failed to put on a bib and was ‘hilariously’ dubbed ‘Bib-otelli’ by Robbie Savage. He drove into a women’s prison to ‘have a look’. He was sent on a shopping trip to furnish his house by his mother and returned with a trampoline. He distributed casino winnings to tramps, confronted school bullies, high-fived Mancunians whilst dressed as Santa, and, in the midst of it, played some football. But now it seems like the wonderfully bizarre antics of Mario Balotelli will be coming to an end.
After Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Arsenal extinguished their title hopes, Manchester City’s manager Roberto Mancini admitted that in the Summer he would probably sell Balotelli. The Italian finally lost patience with his young striker’s eccentricities and complete dearth of discipline, which, in the game’s added minutes, saw him sent off for a fourth time in his brief City career; a sending off which should have come early in the first half after a horrific lunge on Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna (who, despite his woeful haircut does not deserve to have his leg broken). Throughout his time at the club, Mancini has shown remarkable faith in the player; ‘he could be my son’, said the manager. And he treated him as such, chastising him after all of his misdeeds yet perennially reaffirming his conviction that Balotelli could change, could grow; yet he has been defeated.
Now, banned for at least 3 games, and with Mancini saying he will be unlikely to select him again this season, it seems like Balotelli’s involvement in the Premier League has come to an end. Like the fireworks that were set off in his house, he bounded around uncontrollably, gloriously, in a space that just couldn’t handle his intensity. There were glimpse of sheer brilliance; his majestic placed finish against Manchester United at Old Trafford and his incredibly cool injury-time penalty against Spurs indicated a player with genuine class. But those moments cannot justify the individualistic antics that have been emblematic of City’s entire league campaign.
Watching him on the pitch, it would be easy to characterise Balotelli as a petulant brat. Yet his back-story suggests that he is a far more complex character than that. Born to Ghanaian immigrants in Sicily, Balotelli’s early years were filled with a series of operations to resolve life-threatening intestinal problems, problems exacerbated by his family’s poverty, poverty that became so great that the young Mario was taken into foster care. Since then, Balotelli has eschewed contact with his biological parents, claiming that they are only interested in him now that he is successful. In the movies, Balotelli would have overcome this adversity and mature into a strong-minded man and a world-class footballer. In reality, he appears to be a fragile person, exceptionally talented, but unable to deal with the riches and status attached to being a 21st century footballer.
It’s too easy to over-intellectualise football, but Mario Balotelli is worthy of analysis. One of Europe’s most gifted young footballers, he still has the capacity to become one of the world’s best strikers. But his fragmented personal life has created a character who seems to lack the presence of mind to ever realise his full potential, even when shown the exceptional attention and affection as has been provided by Roberto Mancini. The Premier League will be a less interesting place if and when Mario Balotelli leaves it; but the young Italian striker’s individual circus seems to be far from over.