Shooting darts out of a window at members of the club’s youth team – Idiocy.
A training ground fight with a team-mate – Stupidity.
Wearing the shirt of your employers most fierce rivals on national television – Lunacy.
Attempting an outrageous piece of showboating – Applaud the effort?
Mario Balotelli, the Manchester City striker, having put City 1-0 ahead against the LA Galaxy in their friendly match from the penalty spot, enraged his manager, Roberto Mancini, when, through on goal, he attempted a ‘Marseille Roulette’ at the culmination of which he tried to score with a backheel.
If Balotelli scores with his piece of showmanship, then he is lauded as a maverick, a genius, an irrepressible talent, and becomes a favourite of millions of youngsters worldwide playing football in the playground the next day. Unfortunately for the controversial Italian, the term “epic fail” was invented for just such a situation.
After his attempted moment of glory went, well gloriously, wrong, Balotelli was substituted by Roberto Mancini, within three minutes, as the City boss, furious, threw on a player that is as far removed on the field of play from the Italian international in terms of style as one could possibly be – James Milner. A pragmatic change to say the least. Professional is perhaps the best term to describe Milner. It is not for Balotelli.
The crowd whistled as Balotelli’s number 45 went up and he trudged to the sideline. He had already seen Edin Dzeko, the Bosnian striker, react in an exasperated manner at his attempted coup de grace, whilst Dutch tyro Nigel De Jong, perhaps one of the most pre-eminent exponents in world football today of substance over style, had lambasted him also. Balotelli, would soon be on the end of a tongue lashing from Mancini – who let us not forget is perhaps the biggest advocate within football of Balotelli’s undoubted talent, the former Internazionale boss thoroughly believing that the youngsters frequent shows of petulance are outweighed by his talent – before being left to stew on the bench.
“In football you always need to be professional, always serious and in this moment he wasn’t professional,” said Mancini of the incident in his post-game press conference.
But here’s the thing…Is that why we love the game? The professionalism? Is that the most important thing?
What kid wakes up dreaming of being (no disrespect) the next Milner, Paulo Ferreira or Jonny Evans? Kids don’t turn up at the playground, setting out to stifle the opposition and looking for the scrappy 0-0 draw.
Kids want to entertain, to produce moments of magic. It’s why schoolkids of the 70’s wanted to be Johan Cruyff; 80’s kids, Maradona; 90’s kids Gheorge Hagi; 00’s Francesco Totti and nowadays Cristiano Ronaldo. They were/are the players who inspire, who have the bare-faced cheek to try individualistic moments that are so aesthetically pleasing, they simply make you want to try them. It’s the reason football supporters here, there and everywhere, play and watch the game; Not to see a physically impressive specimen, who can charge up and down the pitch for 90 minutes at a time but who lacks touch, technique and vision and couldn’t trap cement.
At their core, football supporters, of all ages, want to be entertained.
And Balotelli is certainly entertaining.
He is a true maverick. Petulant and infuriating, but at the same time a player with such God-given talent that just one deft flick of his right boot could provide something to make an entire stadium gasp with delight, and applaud with approval. Conversely, as was the case in the Home Depot Arena, he can also make fans boo, whistle and spit pure venom in his direction. Whatever feelings he, and players of his ilk, bring out in you, you simply feel as though you must give him your attention to see what he will do next.
If their weren’t, or had never been, footballers like Balotelli, then would these moments evoke such feelings. Would football have become as big a way of life without them?
In thirty, forty years, football supporters won’t remember those workmanlike performers, who consistently ‘put a shift in’ for their clubs back in the day. The memories that they will be left with, those they will cherish and will recount for their children, and their children’s children, are of those moments of brilliance from players that they loved, or inanity from players they loathed.
So whilst Roberto Mancini, under-pressure to deliver success at a football club that has owners willing to plough vast amounts into it, will want Balotelli to be more professional and less of an individualist, let’s hope that Balotelli continues to be an enigmatic sort, capable of going from one extreme to another.
Sometimes creative genius walks hand-in-hand with insanity. In Mario Balotelli’s case it would appear they are almost joined at the hip.
But let’s hope it’s not taken from him.
Football should not (nor has it ever intended to) be a laborious exercise where 22 players fear making a mistake or showing adventure. Football is a game that first and foremost should be entertainment. Maybe somewhere along the way, that has been lost. But let us hope that it has just been mislaid rather than forgotten.
So let us not crucify Mario Balotelli for his attempts at achieving personal glory through artistic endeavour (no one criticised Pele for his 1970 dummy round the goalkeeper at the World Cup in Mexico – remember he put the ball wide also).
Instead, much like when Francesco Totti attempted a Panenka-style penalty, and the goalkeeper called his bluff and stood his ground, allowing him to make the easiest of penalty saves, let us applaud the cheek of Balotelli.
And my God let’s hope he tries something else. And soon. As irregardless of the outcome, I want to see it.