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Mad max Mario

mad max

1 Mario Balotelli was born Mario Barwuah in Palermo, Sicily, to Ghanaian immigrants. He suffered such severe intestinal problems as an infant that he was baptised in fear that he might die.

2 He started his career at the Italian club Lumezzane. He even had a trial at FC Barcelona, where he scored four goals in a training match, but was rejected, because he was not Spanish. He went on to join Inter Milan, under manager Roberto Mancini. After Mancini left, Balotelli and Jose Mourinho never got along. Balotelli struggled till Mancini called him over to Manchester City.

3 He became the first black player to represent Italy at a major event at Euro 2012.

4 At 21, he is the bad boy of world football. He can win the Golden Boy Award one day (he won it in 2010) and be banned the next for doing something crazy on the field.

5 While playing for Inter Milan, he had the audacity to appear on Italian television wearing the jersey of Inter’s closest rivals — AC Milan. Inter fans were livid.

6 In April, Balotelli was involved in a car crash, and was found by the police in possession of about 5,000 pounds. When asked why he was carrying so much cash on him, his reply? “’Coz I’m rich.” He has driven his Merc into a women’s prison to have a look around, entered a school in Manchester looking for a bathroom and set off firecrackers from his bathroom and caused a blaze.

7 He stormed off the pitch after the final whistle in Sunday night’s Euro final without shaking anyone’s hand.

8 He was seen in a video when City were practising for a match with Dynamo Kiev, not being able to put on a simple training bib, with a member of the coaching staff finally helping him put it on.

9 Before Euro 2012, Balotelli said he would not tolerate racism, recounting a time when someone had thrown a banana at him in a bar in Rome, when he played for Inter Milan. If that happened in the streets of Poland or Ukraine, he said, “I will go to jail because I will kill them.” If he noticed racial abuse in the stands, Balotelli said he would “walk off the pitch and return home”.

10 After scoring against Manchester United, he had unveiled a T-shirt that said, “Why Always Me?” His reward? A day or two later, he was named Manchester’s official ambassador for fireworks safety. He’s explosive, you see!

HOW HE SCORED AND WHAT HE DID AFTER THAT

1. Side volley against Republic of Ireland: Showed a great level of skill in meeting the ball with one foot off the ground, with a defender like John O’Shea trying to block him, and generate enough pace to defeat Shay Given in goal. But if his goal was an eyecatcher, what happened after that was something never seen before. As Balotelli began to scream something in English, his teammate Leonardo Bonucci put his hand over the angry striker’s mouth, gagging him. It was not clear whether Balotelli was yelling at coach Cesare Prandelli for keeping him out of the starting lineup. “The day he realises that no one is trying to hurt him and we all want him to do well, he will make progress,” Prandelli later said.

2. Bullet header against Germany: Balotelli the centre forward was at the right place at the right time. Antonio Cassano set it up with some skillful play at the edge of the box but Balotelli still had to outjump the German defender and thump a header into the net past Manuel Neuer. For once, Balotelli the scorer acted almost normal: running away, clenching his jersey, to celebrate with his teammates.

3. Piledriver against Germany: The second semi-final of Euro 2012 was decided by this unstoppable volley into the net by Mario. He found some open space in the centre with the German defenders caught out of position. Balotelli turned and twisted, received and ran, shot and scored. The most powerful kick of the tourney sparked the most powerful image of the tourney: Balotelli whipped off his jersey, tossed it away, and stood flexing his muscles like a bare-bodied boxer before a bout. Till his mates came and swamped him.

Short-Fused and Explosive: Mario Balotelli is as much a danger to himself as the defenders on field

The long diagonal pass floated across midfield, its accuracy all the more remarkable for its distance. Waiting with impeccable timing was Mario Balotelli of Italy, one of soccer’s most gifted and eccentric players. He sprinted past the German defence and turned to meet the ball, nimbly switching directions, backpedaling with the gliding agility of a man on skates.

The Germans gave chase, but it was desperate and futile. Already they must have known they would arrive too late. Thirty-five yards from goal, maybe 40, Balotelli let the ball bounce and tap his chest. And he was off again, racing, touching the ball once with his left foot, reaching the edge of the penalty area, the German captain Philipp Lahm in furious and vain pursuit.

Earlier in this semifinal of the European Championships, played Thursday in Warsaw, the 6-foot-2 Balotelli had put Italy ahead, 1-0, with a vaulting header. The narrow stripe of his Mohawk seemed to point to the sweet spot on his forehead as a cross curled in from the flank. The German goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, moved to his left, but the ball went the other way, beyond his outstretched right hand.

Now Neuer was exposed again, flat-footed, as Balotelli dashed at him. He shot with such power and slicing accuracy that the ball kept rising and swerving until it punched like a fist into the upper right corner of the net. Italy 2, Germany 0.

Balotelli kept running and removed his azure jersey and finally stopped, flexing his tattooed and chiselled arms and torso. Athletic tape fanned across his lower back like slats of an Adirondack chair. He remained unsmiling, his stare defiant, as a teammate ran up to hug him in celebration.

A player is not permitted to remove his jersey, so Balotelli received a yellow-card warning for his preening celebration. One more excessive act — and there have been many in Balotelli’s mercurial career. If anyone was upset by his shirtless celebration, Balotelli said, “They saw my physique and they’re jealous.”

One of two Italian players of African descent, he has endured racial abuse, monkey chants from Spanish fans, then more taunting chants from Croatian fans and a banana tossed onto the field. Some thought him too volatile to be put on the Italian team in the first place. But at 21, he has persisted, a classic centre forward to run at a defence with speed and strength and resolve and precision.

“He can make you or he can break you,” United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “In a good moment, he can decide the game. The next moment he can lose the match with a stupid thing and get sent off.”

It is difficult being judged by so many people, when so few possess his talent, Balotelli has said. After scoring on a late, superb volley in a group-match victory over Ireland, facing away from the goal on a near bicycle kick, Balotelli said he did not have to prove anything to anyone. “I’m not a Super Mario or a Stupid Mario,” he said at a postgame news conference. “I’m just Mario.”

His agent had compared him to Peter Pan, and he agreed to some extent. “There are two metaphors for Mario the person and not Mario the footballer,” Balotelli said. “I think I am a man, but I don’t believe I need to say it. But I could also be Peter Pan because I do things my own way and I am free. So, yes, maybe I should say that I am Peter Pan — although I am much more of a man.”

Balotelli dedicated his two goals against Germany to his adoptive mother. He sought her out after the match and gave her a kiss. He was born in Sicily, named Mario Barwuah, the son of immigrant parents from Ghana in West Africa. At age 2, he was sent to live near Brescia, Italy, with white foster parents, Francesco and Silvia Balotelli. Eventually, Mario took their name and, at 18, in 2008, he became an Italian citizen, eligible to play for its national soccer team.

Balotelli has referred to himself as a genius and does not always seem to heed the admonishment on the medal that he wears, given to him by his adoptive mother. It says, “Professionalism, Endeavor, Humility.”

It frequently seems that sports build characters more than character. And allowances have long been made, and heads have long turned the other way, to accommodate the most talented athletes.

“He’s quite an extravagant guy,” Joe Hart, England’s goalkeeper and Balotelli’s teammate at Manchester City, said before the quarterfinals. “There’s no acting with him. He just does as he does. And when he’s on form football-wise, he’s a great player.”

Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini said, “... he is the best Italian striker. He just needs to make his brain work. That is his only problem.”

 

 

Jere Longman
(The New York Times News Service)