Moments after tucking a sublime right-footed finish into the bottom corner against heralded cross-town powerhouse Manchester United, Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli stoically turned around and lifted his jersey to uncover an undershirt reading “Why Always Me?” to the hostile United faithful.
Why always you, Mario? For if only we could begin to decipher the astonishing mixture of mind-boggling talent, childish petulance, and not exactly delightful immaturity, then perhaps the world could answer you.
Welcome to the enduringly complex and endlessly amusing life of 21-year old Mario Balotelli, an emerging superstar whose penchant for inexplicable behavior has sports fans worldwide clamoring for an encore.
America may not love soccer, but boy, do we love our crazed athletes, and Balotelli is redefining the eccentric athlete. This column may lack a definite point, but by the end of it, I hope you’ll want to learn more about him. Or at least search “Balotelli + chicken hat” in Google images.
The NBA is locked out, so forget Metta World Peace. It is time to embrace, or at least heed the actions of a man who has had his Maserati impounded 27 times (as of last April), who once gave a homeless man £1000 after a big night at a casino, and who recently set his house on fire after shooting fireworks out of his own bathroom.
And all this after having to essentially flee Italian professional soccer.
Balotelli is a Sicilian-born foster child of Ghanaian immigrants who made his professional soccer debut at age 15. In three seasons at Italian powerhouse Inter Milan, Balotelli displayed limitless potential and staggering immaturity, all while braving virulent racism from opposing fans and players.
Met with taunts such as “No Black Italians” and “No multi-ethnic national team,” and once a horrifying foul from Italian icon Francesco Totti, Balotelli only fueled opposing fan and player hatred with his unapologetic arrogance and, perhaps more importantly, his eye-popping talent as a striker.
It didn’t help that he was totally black and, to the resentment of the ultra-conservative nationalists, totally Italian. It also didn’t help he did a television interview adorned in cross-town rival AC Milan attire.
Transferred from Inter to Manchester City in 2010, Balotelli became less of a pariah and more of a clueless badboy. With behavior that has ranged from outrageous tomfoolery to bewildering kindness, Balotelli has compiled an already legendary collection of tabloidable offenses.
He is a man laced with an almost £3 million salary, a shiny Maserati and no regard for convention, safety or public perception.
Once asked why he was carrying £5,000 in his front seat after being pulled over, Balotelli scoffed at the curious policeman: “Because I can.”
He was flagged for driving into a women’s prison with his little brother in his hometown of Brescia. He admitted that he entered because he was curious what a women’s prison was like.
And he has no time for bullies.
Shortly after he was caught throwing darts at a Manchester City youth player, Balotelli inquired why a young autograph seeker was not in school after a morning practice. After the young child told the striker that he was being bullied at school, the forward drove the young chap back to his elementary school and scolded the bully.
Heroic? Bizarre? I’m not sure, either.
All the while, Balotelli is becoming a must-see player on the pitch partly because of his stunning skill and bad boy attitude. Two weeks ago against Aston Villa, Balotelli scored a wondrous bicycle kick — only to not celebrate with any of his teammates.
And then, just a day after setting his house ablaze, Balotelli scored the first two goals in arguably the biggest game in Manchester City history, as City obliterated neighboring United, 6-1.
So why always you, Mario? Because they can, I guess. Because they can.