Of all the players making headlines this Premier League season, Mario Balotelli is consistently one of the most intriguing. He has incurred the wrath of everyone from pundits and journalists to colleagues and management, whilst at the same time capturing the hearts of many fans who enjoy a bit of charisma in the game.
Mario Balotelli is much more than just a pantomime villain or a football sideshow – his £24m price tag and regular flashes of brilliance show that he can become one of the games greatest players, but at what cost to the current Man City side?
Alex Ferguson has built generations of Man United sides around a strong team ethic and a ‘no player is bigger than the club’ ethos, where every signing is made aware of his duty as a Man United player and imbued with a sense of accountability. Even when it seems United have a weakened squad they still manage to maintain their dominion over the Premier League – largely due to Fergusons mastery of sports psychology. Man City appear to have dealt with Tevez upsetting the applecart, but Balotelli could be trickier.
Many would argue that football needs characters. Some pundits seem to forget that sport is ultimately a form of theatre and the there is a danger of over-sanitising the game. The game has no place for the thuggish and morally misguided behaviour displayed by some of Balotelli’s Premier League counterparts, but Balotelli’s misdemeanours seem to lack any real nastiness and may simply be the exuberant acts of a young man coming to terms with wealth and fame.
Balotelli’s recent shouldered goal against Norwich City had many pundits crying disrespect, but to others it was a nonchalant piece of brilliance from a man who knows the game is about more than just putting the ball in the net.
Those who want to rid the game of its controversies and drama are often those who rally for the introduction of video evidence and extra officials. Without contentious decisions and human error, would the game not be diminished? But that may be beside the point.
In an age when sports stars are becoming more and mechanical, it’s refreshing to see sportsmen who add character to the game. With the recent death of wily Brazilian legend Socrates, we were lead to remember a player known as much for his charm and character, as his ability. Balotelli is no Socrates and may never have the cerebral qualities endowed upon the much respected Brazilian, but as long as his actions remain largely innocent, we shouldn’t be too quick to cast judgement, and who knows, in time we may come to accept Balotelli in the same way that we took the likes of Mourinho and Cantona to our hearts.