The new English Premier League season is just days away, so let’s have a look at the sides that have a shot at lifting the trophy in 2020-21.
Bathroom firework displays, luxury car roof jumping competitions and curry house curfews … oh, and a few goals. Welcome to Super Mario Land. The press are not short of words when it comes to Mario Balotelli.
In fact, over recent months, his continual involvement in mildly amusing misdemeanours off the pitch coupled with his fantastic play on it has made him somewhat of a media darling.
The striker’s brace and general domination of the Manchester derby only a matter of hours after the fire brigade was called to his house because ‘someone’ had let off fireworks in the bathroom, cultivated a surplus of explosive headlines which practically wrote themselves.
From then on his increasingly eccentric behaviour seemed to be flourishing under the watchful eye of the papparazzi, with sections of the UK press running a host of stories focused around his private life. These have ranged from the mundane, that showed Balotelli giving £20 to a street performer (something that had apparently never happened before in the city of Manchester), to the bizarre, which reported him popping out to the store for his mother to buy a pint of milk and coming home hours later with a circus sized trampoline, a ride on lawn mower and a giraffe from the local zoo (or something along those lines).
It appeared from all this that the outspoken Italian, or at least the people around him, had finally learned to play the game without even having to kick a football.
There was talk of the Italian finally maturing, the realization of his ability on the pitch coinciding with his growing up off it, whilst maintaining his flair and a propensity for the bizarre that had brought him headlines throughout his short career.
But many believed that it was only a matter of time before Mario was back to his old ways, with the charmingly eccentric, larger-than-life routine vanishing in favour of the the realisation that Mario is somewhat of an uncontrollable misfit.
Two stories that have popped up over the past few weeks have validated those who conform to the latter theory, beginning with Mario breaking curfew on the Saturday before City’s crucial clash with Chelsea.
Less than 48 hours before a game, Balotelli blatantly disobeyed team rules by popping out for a midnight curry with some pals and did his best to stay under the radar by sword fighting with a rolling pins in the middle of the restaurant. If you’re sitting there searching for a valid reason as to why a footballer cannot have a curry two nights before a game then I, for one, have got naan, but the disregard for the rules was a definite show of insolence to the Manchester City hierarchy.
But Mario wasn’t finished there. Less than a week later, following the loss to Chelsea, he was involved in a training dust up with teammate Micah Richards. It was the second of these type of incidents involving Balotelli that has been caught by the watchful eye of the press, and is the reason Manchester City are developing plans for higher fences around their training ground.
The pictures showed both players having to be separated by teammates, although the incident was apparently later dealt with using a Sepp Blatter racism-extinguishing handshake.
Now on the surface these two incidents seem to be in a similar vein to the nutty activities of Mario the joker, but it is the undercurrent of embarrassment that flows toward his manager in both of these cases that really questions the wisdom of his actions and well and truly puts the ‘maturity’ theories to bed, and not at a decent hour mind you.
After all, Roberto Mancini has apparently been “like a father figure” to Balotelli and took a calculated gamble when recruiting him as a key player in his Sky Blue revolution.
Mario’s reputation and Inter was that of a diva with limitless talent who could polarize the dressing room and during his time there he managed to alienate the entire fan base by wearing an AC Milan shirt on Italian TV. He was in and out of Jose Mourinho’s good books with such regularity the two could have passed as a married couple and he was involved in a swathe of off the field incidents.
The pick of which was apparently a luxury car jumping competition he had with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, where they egged each other on to jump on the roof of their own flashy sports cars, both which were utterly un-drivable by the time the boys had finished having their fun.
These were clearly the actions of an immature self centered brat but the Balotelli story has an interesting prelude. As a toddler he was put into foster care by his struggling family, who were Ghanaian immigrants living in Palermo and ended up with living with an couple who gave him the most Italian sounding name since Luciano Pavarotti.
Despite being born and raised in Italy, Balotelli faced constant racism in his country that even continued when he became part of the national team. Life before he was a star was reportedly even worse, and much can be read into him coming to the aid of a young boy who he saw being bullied in Manchester, yet another story that the press lapped up like swiftly softening Ben and Jerry’s.
But if someone has shown faith in Balotelli, it has been Mancini as he not only paid top dollar for him despite his endless indiscretions but has also been willing to start him in the big games. The star striker has repaid this faith with goals, and crucial ones at that, with his finish against Chelsea the mark of a man who could be destined for greatness. If, under the watchful eye of his manager, Balotelli maintains this form and develops further into one of the best strikers in the premier league, then his worth to Mancini will be immeasurable.
In a sense it could become a relationship of co-dependence between player and manager, for in the eyes of the wealthy oil baron owners, those two may almost come as a package deal. If city’s form slumps and Mancini fails to produce a trophy haul that is sufficient enough to appease the Shiekh but Ballotelli becomes one of the leagues best strikers, they will certainly think twice before moving the manager on. So in that regard, Mario could become the bargaining chip used by Mancini to buy himself an extra six to 12 months in the job if things do not go exactly to plan.
After all, who else is going to be able to bring out the best in this volatile problem child and make him feel like he finally belongs to something?
However, Mancini’s patience must be beginning to wear thin and one would think Balotelli is already dining at the Last Chance Cantina. But if there’s one thing the manager cannot fault with Mario, it is his Christmas spirit. The latest reports from the wacky world of Mario had him driving around Manchester, the night before facing Arsenal, dressed as Santa handing out cash to strangers.
Love him or hate him, his personality is great for football in general, even though it could be considered disruptive to the dressing room itself. For now the jury is out and the burning question remains – undeniable talent and a chance worth taking or dressing room poison who will wear out his welcome sooner or later?
Only time will tell and it will be interesting to see if Super Mario can take his career to the next level.