13 December ~ Although injury and suspension have meant Mario Balotelli has appeared for Manchester City only seven times since arriving in August, his presence in England continues to generate column inches. And while some of these have concentrated on his impact in the City shirt, just as many have been devoted to scrutinising his behaviour, searching for glimpses of the “erratic” character for which he has become infamous. Admittedly, Balotelli has often provided the media with ammunition for stories of this type.

The end of his career at Inter was notable for his fractious relationship with Jose Mourinho, who found him difficult to control, and for a running conflict with the club’s supporters, who were angered by a series of poor performances and gestures they considered disrespectful. The most notable of these involved the striker’s appearance on Italian television wearing an AC Milan shirt. In September, he compounded his reputation for eccentricity by driving into a women’s prison in Italy, claiming he simply wanted to see what it was like. He didn’t get far, however, as the prison officers on duty at the time quickly turned him away on the grounds of his clearly being Mario Balotelli.

While he might have hoped that moving to a new country would offer a fresh start, his notoriety has proved persistent, and his mildest contraventions and idiosyncrasies are scoured for evidence with which to condemn him to the Asylum for the Criminally Maverick and Continental. His sending off for engaging in a pointless tangle with West Brom’s Youssuf Mulumbu prompted one broadsheet columnist to employ the “box of frogs” analogy (apparently now a recognised psychiatric marker) to declare him mad, while his pronouncements about wishing to be reunited with former strike partner Zlatan Ibrahimovic have led to speculation over how long he will last at Eastlands.

More recently, Balotelli’s training-ground tussle with Jerome Boateng – despite being even shorter and less dignified than the Haye-Harrison fight – was leapt on as further proof of his inflammatory character. Even his muted goal “celebrations”, in which he directs a recriminatory glare at whoever has supplied him with the ball, are examined for indications of his mental state.

Balotelli, however, has always claimed to be confused by his infamy and it’s not hard to see why. Though he sometimes exasperates supporters and staff of the clubs he plays for, he is entitled to feel aggrieved at the treatment he received from some fans in Italy, and his charge sheet suggests less that of a hellraiser bent on destruction than a mildly eccentric young footballer who forgot to turn up for media training. The crime of which he is most frequently guilty is refusing to disguise what he thinks, yet he often attracts more condemnation than players who have committed serious offences. He has even described himself as “stupid” for continuing to mix with people he considers to be a bad influence – in the case of most footballers, it would be this career-ending display of self-awareness that prompted questions about mental stability.

And even if Balotelli does build on his bust-up with Boateng and starts to display consistent evidence of the “madness” we were shriekingly promised on his arrival, it might not be an entirely bad thing. Although it may frustrate those involved with Manchester City, that club has come to be regarded by neutrals as increasingly charmless – a multinational enterprise gripped by a fear-driven obsession with success, at the altar of which almost anything will be sacrificed. Anarchy, entertainment, even personality, are in short supply. But who knows? The sight of one of their star players attempting to scale the perimeter wall of Strangeways might be just what neutrals need to rediscover some affection for City. Ed Wilson

Comments (8)
Comment by johntheface 2010-12-13 11:41:08

during yesterday's match between bolton and blackburn, martin petrov had a goal disallowed. he clearly felt the goal should have stood. he turned to face the referee and swung his fist in annoyance in exactly the same way balotelli did during the match against west ham on saturday. that is not an exaggeration, the gesture was EXCATLY the same. the only difference was that petrov also screamed a few obscenities towards the ref (i suppose balotelli may have sworn in italian but i don't know and i doubt the referee did either, and whatever he said he did so under his breath to himself). approximately 10 minutes later petrov was substituted. when his number came up he glared at owen coyle. he then marched off the pitch with a furious look on his face, refused to shake his manager's hand, threw his gloves to the floor in anger and sulked for the remained of the game. this was just as bad, if not worse, than tevez's reaction to being substituted against bolton last week.

this sort of thing happens in every game, yet when city do it it makes the back page. drives me mental

Comment by jimmysunshine 2010-12-13 12:23:05

I'm hearing a lot of disgruntlement about coverage of City. I think It goes with the territory, doesn't it? John, if those incidents you'd mentioned had happened at Arsenal, Chelsea or United it would've been top news too.

Right now City are a phenomenon. It's hardly surprising they are being monitored at the microscopic level - it happened at Chelsea when Abramovich landed, the only comparable development in recent years.

Rodney Marsh went so far as to say it was the 'southern press against City - North/South divide'. Please! They've taunted Arsene Wenger most of his career in this country. Any exceptional club or individual is going to be in the spotlight. Right now that's City and about 25 unbelievably well payed footballers (stupidly well payed, one might suggest).

Perhaps you'd rather be a midtable slogger with limited budget, a team of not-so-super-star players and the odd chance of maybe getting to the league cup final if the draw is favourable and all the big teams knock each other out?

I've yet to see a fan complaining about the dubious source of all this money.

Comment by jameswba 2010-12-13 14:56:02

'The sight of one of their star players attempting to scale the perimeter wall of Strangeways might be just what neutrals need to rediscover some affection for City.'

So Robinho on the bus didn't do the trick?

Meanwhile, I agree with jimmysunshine. Johntheface's comment sums up the dilemma of present-day City fans. They'd like the media and neutrals to still love City despite the fact that the club is now light years from the endearingly incompetent bunch that, for example, got relegated to what's now League One despite crowds of 28,000. It was the haplessness that appealed. As for the pots of money, Garry Cooke talking about 'the product', a slick operator as manager, paying exhorbitant sums for Villa's best players, these things might help make you successful but they're not going to win you affection. Best get used to it.

Good article though. A useful corrective to one on the Guardian site about Balotelli.

Comment by johntheface 2010-12-13 15:31:11

i don't expect people to love us. it would just be nice to be left alone for 5 minutes. my point was that balotelli's reaction on saturday was less than nothing and happens at least 5 times in every single game. tevez's reaction was bad but not not half as bad as was made out. i didn't mean to sound like i was bleating about poor city, i'm fully aware of how lucky we are, but it does get a bit annoying when every tiny little thing gets blown out of proportion. we were great on saturday and people should be talking about yaya toure and david silva instead of balotelli.

and for the record, i think rodney marsh talks utter nonsense too. he was a great player for us but i do wish he'd shut up. tevez is not on £286,000 a week. garry cook's a muppet too

Comment by donedmundo 2010-12-13 16:50:11

If Tevez is not on £286,000 a week how much is he paid? How do you know how much Tevez is paid?

Comment by Old Mother Hell 2010-12-13 18:56:52

It really bends my bollocks whenever people witter on about the "dubious source" of City's finances. The UAE thrive on the processing of their natural resources. What's bloody dubious about that?

Comment by Mr Beast 2010-12-13 20:09:18

It's dubious because the resources of the whole country - although the Shiekh obviously sees no distinction between what belongs to the UAE and what belongs to him - are being frittered away on an English football team.

Comment by UncleTupelo 2010-12-16 02:25:47

Ah, Mario Balotelli. Whenever I see him he's got a face on like a birthday boy who asked for a remote control car but got a pair of slippers. I don't know whether to cuff him round the back of the head and tell the overpaid tossbag to cheer the chuff up, or whether to give him a massive hug and tell him it's okay, it's only a game, enjoy yourself, keep your head down and don't worry, you won't have to live in Manchester forever.

He's still only a kid, I think the latter is what's needed for this lost little boy. Send him to Arsenal or Man Utd and let Wenger and Ferguson look after him properly.

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