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Leagues: EPL

In Defense of Mario Balotelli

Photo by _ankor

On the face of it, Mario Balotelli is exactly the type of player I, as a thoroughbred American sports fan, should hate: an aloof, cold, joyless sourpuss who even at twenty years old possesses the trappings of a career mercenary.  When Super Mario scores, he celebrates with the excitement one expresses when their doctor starts throwing around words like “terminal” or “malignant” or “herpes.”

He can be both inscrutable and excessively candid, as evidenced by his incredibly honest assessment of his first season in England after turning in a Man of the Match performance which lifted Manchester City to its first grip on hardware in forty painful years.  His talent is as limitless as his ability to shock and offend stodgy football pundits who took no time in branding him an embarrassment to the sport after an audacious (understatement)…perhaps woefully misguided (closer)…OK borderline psychotic (BINGO) backheel shot attempt during a preseason friendly which did not hit the target.

Taylor Twellman’s comments on ESPN’s broadcast immediately smacked me as remiscient of Joe Buck’s infamous righteous indignation at Randy Moss’ pantomooning Packers fans after scoring a touchdown in a playoff game.  Twellman stated that Mario was a disgrace and could not be counted on to perform in big games.  This is funny for a few reasons, not least of which is Twellman’s residency on American soccer’s own Buffalo Bills, losing several title games including one at home in New England.  Balotelli’s FA Cup winner’s medal and youth fly directly in the face of Twellman’s criticism, and his implication that a truly meaningless match against the LA Galaxy has any bearing on Balotelli’s ability to perform in the EPL as well as the Champions League this season or any other season is laughable at best.

For my money, sports need real characters, especially villains to balance all the hero worship, and I’d always rather my villain perpetrate his villainy on the field (Reggie Miller) as opposed to off (Mike Tyson, Ray Lewis, Michael Vick), and at the very least mostly non-violently (Dennis Rodman).  The history of professional sports is littered with brash, cocky upstarts who challenge preconceived notions of how an athlete should behave: from Muhammad Ali to Joe Namath, Pete Rose (not a great example) all the way up to Gazza or Eric Cantona.

And while I can’t really wrap my head around or speak with any authority about being African-born nor raised in Italy by Italians, the combination has undoubtedly created a highly entertaining and intriguing brand of crazy/genius.  His blowup on the sidelines at Roberto Mancini, while inappropriately public, can be seen more as a father/son type clash as opposed to just another simple tale of a spoiled athlete throwing a tantrum (see Owens, Terrell).  After being marginalized at Inter Milan by Jose Mourinho, Balotelli elected to leave for City to follow Mancini, a man he regards as a father figure.  Additionally, if he really believed he had been whistled for offsides anyway, than the criticism of Balotelli becomes even thinner, and his indignation at being swiftly substituted makes much more sense.  However, even as an ardent Balotelli fan, I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt in this case, either.

The issue that most people lose sight of is one of our absolute favorite aspects and joys of football: talking about football.  If nothing else, Balotelli is an excellent topic of football conversation.  He is a genuine heel in a world of purported babyfaces.  The scandals regarding personal conduct in the EPL, especially those involving locker room betrayal, can no longer remain hidden despite the best PR efforts.  Captains of championship teams ought to be revered, yet equally shameless and shameful actions can’t completely sway public opinions far enough to say, “This guy is just a bad person.”  It really is a shame when a player we just don’t understand is demonized when there are no shortage of plain terrible human beings plying their trade in the EPL (see FC, Chelsea).

At just twenty-one years old when this year’s campaign begins, his eccentricities have a decade to bloom, and for my part I cannot wait to see what Super Mario’s future holds.

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  1. Kyle

    July 26, 2011 at 11:33 am

    “It really is a shame when a player we just don’t understand is demonized when there are no shortage of plain terrible human beings plying their trade in the EPL (see FC, Chelsea).”

    Wow, Gaffer, you’ve really lost control of your little baby, allowing this site to be turned into a trashy, juvenile hate-fest filled with cheap shots. It’s one thing to say something like this in the comments, but in the main article. Really? Do you want this site to be treated seriously? Then you might want to reconsider the “contributions” of the Stephen Luceys of the world.

    Embarrassing article and editing.

  2. Evan

    July 26, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Great piece.

    Balotelli is a great player and still has a lot to learn.

    Twellman said he can’t be counted on in big games, but he must have forgotten that Balotelli won man of the match in the FA Cup final. Twellman could only cut it in MLS and isn’t fit to lace Balo’s boots.

  3. brn442

    July 26, 2011 at 10:25 am

    In the 30+ years I have been watching this sport, I have never seen a player do what Mario did.
    It was not not an audacious chip.
    It was not a cheeky back heel in the flow of play.

    The man basically aborted putting in a sitter – STOPPED – then, did a lazy careless back heel. In a match, people paid money for (meaningless my arse) 30 minutes in, up by just one goal.

    Stephen – if Joe Hart had decided to juggle the ball on his goal-line with his head and it went in, would you have been as sympathetic?

    • Evan

      July 26, 2011 at 10:36 am

      There’s a difference to scoring an own goal and a striker not scoring.
      If you don’t know that, then I find it hard to believe you’ve been watching the sport for “30+ years”.

      Oh, and also, the game WAS MEANINGLESS. I’m tired of people trying to say it wasn’t meaningless.
      In the first half, Balotelli was basically playing a Los Angeles reserve side.

      • fifi

        July 27, 2011 at 8:18 am

        Evan you are very wrong my brother. The is no difference in scoring a own goal and missing an open winning goal due to careless. an own goal can be the difference between winning and lossing, and missing an open chance can be the same difference between winning and loosing. If Mario hit that ball well the game could not go on penalty. So they can close to loosing due to him. Number two, This is professional sport, not amature, so there is no game that is meaningless in professional sport, because they keep record, and record is honor… every team need to have a great record against another and these records are mentions and motivate them when they meet again. also is a pre season game and pre season perfomence boost the team moral.

  4. John

    July 26, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Balotelli is a prat. He’s useless, overrated, and has the mental capacity of a 3 week old dog. And that’s rude to dogs. The fact that this website has someone working for it that wrote such a horrid, disgusting article claiming a defense for Balotelli, is proof that every div feels he/she knows football. Here’s a clue mate, you don’t.

  5. cfc

    July 26, 2011 at 6:29 am

    personally i love balotelli. he is hilarious and makes the premiership a more interesting competition.

    that was a very cheap shot at chelsea at the end, i presume that you are one of the many people who believed in all the tabloid rumours about JT having an affair with Wayne Bridge’s former girlfriend. However if you are writing an article for a website you should be informed enough to know that the NOTW apologised to Terry and admitted that they had made up the rumours.

    • Stephen Lucey

      July 26, 2011 at 8:46 am

      Well it sure did seem like he and Bridge knew the truth on the pitch.

  6. GiovaNYC

    July 26, 2011 at 2:31 am

    Come on everyone, lighten up. He’s a surprisingly charming and also inept badboy. He has a lot of growing up to do and he’s unusually talented.

    Ok, he broke the rules for the marketers promoting MLS and City by treating the match like the joke it was to his team, which can beat LA in their sleep (did you see the penalty shoot out? it was won by the keeper’s goal! LOL).

    End of the day it was a bit of showboating and stupidity in a meaningless game by a kid. Everyone has to ask themselves why they hate Mario so much more than the other bad boys?

    There is plenty of bad and unprofessional behavior in football from young and not-so-young talents. Why does Mario take more abuse than: Rooney (stamping, swearing, scowling), Fabregas (spitting on other team’s coaches), Luis Suarez (biting ears), Drogba (“its a f**ing disgrace!”).

    Success maybe??

    • fifi

      July 27, 2011 at 7:43 am

      Mario is indispline, Those guys u mention are pple that were driven by anger once or twice. Mario make a booboo every day

  7. Newton

    July 26, 2011 at 1:02 am

    drivel and dreck. nitwit apologists like the author should be relegated to blogs in siberia. Balotelli is a punk, and easily replaceable. Theres always another Balotelli in the academies. He should be relegated to beer sales for such behavior. The bad boy crap is so old news, and the last thing we need is a bunch of 16 year olds looking up to this kind of trash and parroting this behavior, knowing they can get away with it.

    Mancini is spineless for forgiving such insubordination. Clearly he empathizes with the Italian monopoly on immaturity and whining. Clearly Mancini only cares about ticket sales and a cup at any cost, his team be damned. I will be the first one laughing when Balotelli gets injured and he becomes an asterisk in the annals of football. Go sell shoes you punk, and let a kid with class and desire come up from the academies and kick you out.

    • Evan

      July 26, 2011 at 10:32 am

      Is there an idiot contest on this site that I’m not aware of?
      You would be a clear winner.

  8. CelticsBlues

    July 25, 2011 at 11:39 pm


    Balotelli is great. The world needs more freaks. City could also use a 20 goal striker.

  9. trickybrkn

    July 25, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    His story is a lifetime movie.

  10. Robinson

    July 25, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Mourinho never played him because o his attitude not only to his fellow team mates like Materazzi , who got into a heck lot of arguments with, but because he openly and actively disrespected the club itself and the fans. Once in the 1st leg of the semifinal vs Barcelona he and someone else ( I think Sneijder?) where 2 on 2 with a chance to score another goal to make it 4-1 in Inter’s favor but Balotelli just blasted the ball into the stands from 30 yards from goal without even trying score professionally on a 2 on 2 breakaway. He was promptly and deservedly booed and after the final whistle had a temper tantrum and threw his Inter shirt on the floor which made the fans even more angry at him. Also he is known to be a devout Milan fan too.

  11. Nelson

    July 25, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    Yes, it is entertaining to have characters like this to talk about. But its only enjoyable when they are on another team.

  12. Matt

    July 25, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    I thought from the second it happened that it looked like he thought he was called offside. Much ado about nothing. The thing that Mario has a huge problem with though is disappearing in games. City cant at all afford to drop points because Mario is pouting on the field for spells. If they will win trophies this year, they will have to be 100% and catch breaks. United will be frontrunning again.

  13. Matt

    July 25, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Nice gratuitous slam on Chelsea. Should get you a few slavish thumbs up.

  14. Why?

    July 25, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Just out of interest what is this ‘locker room betrayal’ you mention?

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