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

Comments (7)
Comment by UncleTupelo 2011-06-20 13:15:02

You're not alone. I bloody love Mario Balotelli (not a Man City fan) and my girlfriend thinks he's adorable.

The guy's had a tough life and I just want to give the guy a hug. He looks like he needs one.

I enjoy the story about how he drove in to a women's prison just to "see what it was like". Another one emerged about how he saw a young lad watching Man City training, so went over to him to ask why he wasn't in school. The child told him it's because he got bullied at school, so Mario drove him to school and asked him to point out the bullies and asked them to leave him alone (I imagine he made it worst, but still, his heart's in the right place).

Also, this...

He's not all bad and he's got a cheeky grin. In a world where Alan Shearer is a television "personality", we need more Mario Balotelli's.

Comment by t.j.vickerman 2011-06-20 15:20:25

I bloody love him too! Let the Ballo love flow...

Comment by Firesox 2011-06-20 16:35:59

I love Balotelli.

If some stupid English player did this:

or this:

we wouldn't hear the end of it. Balotelli has some maturing to do on the pitch and off, but really, if he plays like he can, he'll be exactly like Cristiano Ronaldo, and who cares what he does off the field if he doesn't do anything illegal.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-06-20 17:19:42

Interesting and thought-provoking article, Andy. Maybe we should all cut Balotelli some slack. And the rest of 'em too. All this hate and vitriol - it's really not good for us!

Let's up the ante a bit. What about the even-more-reviled Joey Barton? Should we all try and "understand" him? I recall listening to Barton speaking with Tony Adams on the "Today" programme last Christmas, where he took the opportunity to explain himself, talk about his "difficult upbringing" and his various and numerous transgressions - and ask to be given another chance. He came across as really sincere. Ashamed and humiliated by his criminal record, embarrassed by the public's perception of him, genuinely remorseful for everything he had done, etc etc. It was a fantastic piece of radio. And after listening to it, I thought to myself: yes, maybe I SHOULD give Joey Barton another chance. Not easy, I know - not with his record - but who are we to stand in judgement eh? As the good book says: let he who is without sin throw the first dart/punch/stone or whatever comes to hand.

Tell you what, Andy: I'll cut Mario Balotelli some slack, if you cut Joey Barton some slack. Deal? ;-)

Comment by Analogue Bubblebath II 2011-06-20 17:28:31

I bet that kid got belted twice as hard after Balotelli had driven off.

Comment by TacoTikiTakaToe 2011-06-20 22:21:19

Mancini was mad to spend £24 million on him.

It seems that for every loose cannon within any given sport, there will be three loose cannons within the world of football.
Maybe that should be four/five.

Why are there so many mentalists within football compared to other sports?

I read of Danny Cipriani, but the stunts he pulls seem small fry compared to shooting work experience boys and throwing darts at people.

Is it the batshit crazy amounts of money given to largely uneducated, impressionable young men, as is seen in NBA, which also has its fair share of crazy-ass loons?

Who knows? Who cares?

Comment by Coral 2011-06-21 17:51:14

"Why are there so many mentalists within football compared to other sports?"

There aren't, you just hear more about them. Remember the time the Bath squad all got punnished for allegedly beating up people in a club? No neither do I because who cares about Rugby. They allegedly beat up Stan Collymore another time in Dublin, now that was news. Remember the time Wayne Rooney sang a duet with Andy Carroll? Yeah was last week in the Carribean and was deemed news.

My bench mark will forever be Freddie falling out of a pedallo drunk. That was funny despite being during a World Cup. Had Wayne Rooney, who has similar talsimanic status for England football, I think my TV would have exploded with scorn being poured on the matter and difficult to walk down the street for burning effergies

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