Football just a trivial pursuit for baffling Balotelli

Anyone hoping the enigmatic forward is about to “grow up” – that is, to start playing with the commitment of a Luis Suarez or a Shane Long – is likely to be disappointed

Everyone agrees Mario Balotelli would be a hell of a player if only he would take the game more seriously. But to do that, he would have to be a different person. Photograph:  Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Everyone agrees Mario Balotelli would be a hell of a player if only he would take the game more seriously. But to do that, he would have to be a different person. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 12:00

This week last year, Sports Illustrated featured a foreign soccer player on their cover for only the sixth time in their 60-year history. The man they chose to follow where only Pele, Maradona, Chinaglia, Passarella and Beckham had gone before was Mario Balotelli.

The Balotelli story was entitled “The Most Interesting Man In The World,” and the thrust of it was that Balotelli “figures to be one of the dominant forwards at next year’s World Cup in Brazil”.

Balotelli’s World Cup ended in the same match as that of the man he is set to replace at Anfield, Luis Suarez. Both players will look back on June 24th in Natal as one of the worst days of their career. Suarez emerged from the Italy-Uruguay match banned from international football for nine matches and all forms of football for four months, so it’s impressive to consider the consequences for Balotelli’s reputation were actually even worse.

Italy manager Cesare Prandelli substituted Balotelli at half-time after witnessing perhaps the worst individual performance of the 2014 World Cup: 45 minutes, 10 passes, four fouls, one pathetic shot. After letting his team-mates down on the field, Balotelli angered them further by refusing to wait and listen to Andrea Pirlo’s speech to mark his international retirement, going out and sit on the bus by himself.

Complained

Gianluigi Buffon complained that Italy’s young players always left it to the senior players to “pull the cart out of the mud”. Daniele de Rossi declared that Italy had to “start again, with real men — not Panini stickers and “characters”. Elsewhere in the stadium, Prandelli was resigning and admitting that building the team around Balotelli had been a terrible mistake.

Prandelli’s admission recalled the scene on April 8th, 2012 at the Emirates Stadium, when Roberto Mancini, pale with rage, declared he was “finished” with Balotelli, after the player got himself stupidly sent off in a crucial match on the run-in.

The striking thing about Balotelli’s performance that day was his emotional disconnectedness from the occasion. He had forgotten about the game and instead was pursuing vendettas against Bacary Sagna and Alexandre Song.

That sense of disconnectedness is a recurrent theme. Whatever the group’s prevailing mood, Balotelli’s mood is probably the opposite.

A famous photo shows him after the final whistle has gone in City’s 2011 FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester United.

Balotelli had made some gloating remark to Rio Ferdinand and the United players reacted furiously. The photo shows Ferdinand, Anderson, Nani, Mancini and others scuffling around Balotelli; some of them are grabbing his shirt, all of their faces are contorted with rage. Balotelli’s face is a mask of serenity.

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