How do you solve a problem like Mario?
Posted 136 days ago
Can anything adequate be done with Mario Balotelli? Now he has grappled with his own Manchester City manager and initial mentor Roberto Mancini on a training ground all too open to the spying lenses of lurking photographers.
The word is that during a training game Balotelli’s lunge at a hapless adversary was so reckless and dangerous that Mancini wanted to send him off, Balotelli didn’t want to go, and hence the degrading spectacle of their physical confrontation. It subsequently became known that Balotelli, aware of his own explosive propensities, has been consulting a Catholic priest though a highly competent psychotherapist would surely be a better choice. Were Balotelli ever inclined to stay on the sofa.
Since that scandalous conflict, it became known that City not surprisingly were ready to sell Balotelli who arrived so expensively from Inter. Where let it be stressed Mancini himself has encouraged and guided his precocious early career, even to the extent of deputing that when Inter had a free kick within scoring range it should always be Balotelli with his ferocious right foot rather than a more experienced player who should take it.
Balotelli had come to Inter from a minor non-league club. Born in Palermo, the Sicilian capital, he thus has Italian nationality but his parents were both Ghanaian. He was subsequently fostered by a family in Brescia, far away north on the mainland and his actual parents have lamented their later lack of contact with him.
He has also been subjected to the racist abuse which seems endemic in Italian football and whose latest lurid example took place recently when Milan, the other great Milanese club, walked off the field en masse, led by Kevin Prince Boateng, when he and other black players were abused by fans during a friendly at obscure Pro Patria. A team once prominent in Serie A, but now plumbing the depths of Italian League soccer.
The club plays in the little northern town of Busto Arsizio in hooped jerseys. The 1947/48 season saw them promoted to the Campionato and finishing an honourable eighth. They continued to hold their own despite limited resources till finishing bottom of Serie A in 1953. Back they came again two seasons later, only to finish bottom once more. Yet they were allowed to retain their place after – and I well remember being in Rome at the time – Udinese, second in the League, were relegated for offences committed in 1953/54. Alas, it was just a transient reprieve as they proceeded to finish bottom again and that began their slide into virtual oblivion. From which they have now emerged for the wrong reasons.
Meanwhile, Balotelli has had his distinguished defenders in his club mate Carlos Tevez, previously so intransigent a figure himself, and Gianfranco Zola, now Watford manager, who has tried to put a metaphorical arm about his shoulders. Or might perhaps we be seeing the continuing conflict with Mancini as a kind of father-son drama. Balotelli implicitly rebelling against the man who encouraged but at the same time tended to dominate him!
Not that Mancini has always been the shrewd psychologist. Craig Bellamy has bitterly criticised the way he says Mancini made him train without care for his painfully injured knee. There was a contretemps with the young Micah Richards when he regretted Mancini’s defensive tactics in a debacle with Ajax. And debatable Mancini criticism of keeper Joe Hart when he too queried tactics used at Real Madrid.
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