20 June ~ True fame is when millions take an interest in your attempt to put on a bib. I am the only person I know who likes Mario Balotelli and I'm used to my admission of this being greeted with derision. The man whose name has become a byword for arrogance and stupidity deserves a second chance. As fans, we have a confused attitude towards arrogance. We criticise one player's ego while celebrating another's self-belief. Modesty is certainly impressive, particularly when a man as talented as Lionel Messi can manage to be humble. For many top sportsmen, however, excessive self-belief is how they cope with pressure. In Balotelli's case, the arrogance makes the talent possible.
Balotelli's time in England has been as much about car crashes and misplaced darts as football. What do we want our players to do when they are not on the pitch? While we do not want them throwing darts at human targets, we should accept that a world where every footballer is a model professional is impossible to achieve and would be very tedious. A lot of fans actually like their footballing heroes to be mischievous. Much of George Best's reputation was built away from the football field. The papers print stories of Balotelli’s antics because they know that, though we will shake our heads in disapproval, we will laugh as well.
Then there is the question of unfulfilled talent. The goals have not flowed, the performances have been erratic. Yet players who follow a steady path to success are admirable but they are not fascinating; it is the flawed prodigies who produce the compelling stories. Balotelli has the capacity for greatness but will have to overcome the worst part of himself to get there. Among all the trials and tribulations, there is an intriguing question at stake: will potential be fulfilled or will this be another "if only" story?
Jose Mourinho gave up on Balotelli, claiming that he "wasn't able to use his brain". In contrast, Roberto Mancini has staked a large part of his reputation on turning the youngster into a success. While many have questioned his judgment, the Manchester City boss deserves respect for this calculated gamble. Football management should not just be about assembling a squad of perfectly formed players; nurturing young talent is one of the job's trickiest skills. For all Mourinho's ability, his only strategy for dealing with Balotelli seemed to be consistent condemnation. Mancini has not found the magic formula, yet Balotelli's selfless performance in the FA Cup final, ordered by his manager, suggests that the he is starting to get through to him.
There is no sense in throwing a 20-year-old on to the scrap heap and most of us are willing to permit some youthful indiscretions. Everyone needs an opportunity to grow up and we need to accept that some need more time and more support than others. Balotelli in a few years' time may be a different man to the Balotelli we know today. Perhaps he will no longer see throwing darts at human targets as harmless fun.
For all the stories that are told about Balotelli, the one that is forgotten is the tale of triumph against adversity. A sickly young child, he was fortunate to survive a serious intestinal condition. At the age of three, poverty led his Ghanaian parents to give him up to Italian social services. Then there is the racism that has stalked him throughout his short career. He was regularly a target while playing at Inter. Saddest of all though is the abuse that he has received on both of his appearances for Italy – cruel treatment for a man who described playing for his adopted country as his ultimate ambition. Balotelli's response to the abuse has been level headed. He once remarked: "I would like to hear more talk about these problems than my alleged girlfriends." We should wish him luck. Andy Ryan reversesweptradio