“Bad Boy Entertainment did not shoot anybody. I didn’t shoot anybody.” – Puff Daddy
Stubborn, petulant, aggressive, uncouth and cold; it’s entirely fair to say that Mario Balotelli doesn’t enjoy the fawning sympathy of the world’s media. Painted as an uncontrollable young man lacking the requisite facilities for respect and decency, Balotelli is treated like a caged animal as journalists and opponents alike prod him with sticks before running for cover and hoping that they’ve done enough to provoke a response.
The self-righteous shake their heads ruefully at his every action, labelling him as everything that is wrong with ‘The Modern Game’, but I think the time has come to stand up for Super Mario. Indeed, I am even will to go as far as to say that he is everything we should love about the this sport of ours in this day and age.
Football – despite its high-stakes, win-at-all-costs culture – is an entertainment industry and primarily designed to interest those who chose to spend their money on a ticket to a game.
Too often this beautiful simplicity is lost in a tide of vehemence and myopia, this most global of sports causing angst, conflict and violence amongst those who forget that football is merely a game constructed to provide us with a few fleeting moments of pleasure on our journey from dust to dust.
With the vast majority of players trained in the art of providing the media with the most tiresome of platitudes, surely any player who divides opinion with their behaviour and gives us something to talk about is worthy of praise.
After all, isn’t one of any footballer’s primary functions simply to entertain, to be an enthralling member of the dramatis personae in the rich narrative that is world football? If we are to follow that strand of thought to its natural conclusion then we can hold Mario Balotelli to be one of the game’s most glorious protagonists.
“A police car and a screaming siren,
Pneumatic drill and ripped up concrete,
A baby wailing, a stray dog howling,
The screech of brakes and lamplights blinking,
That’s entertainment, that’s entertainment.”
Balotelli infuriates and perplexes in equal measure many who try to understand him, the excuses offered for his behaviour ranging from his difficult upbringing to the racist abuse he so regularly suffered from while playing in Italy. While these factors have undoubtedly contributed to his defensive and occasionally hostile persona, there is no need to psycho-analyse or attempt to explain the Italian’s actions, in the sense of entertainment in its purest form he is serving his purpose to a much fuller extent than many of his colleagues.
I watch football to be entertained by a rich cast of characters with varying levels of ability, and it is this personalisation which, at least to my own subjectivity, makes the game worth watching. Of course, sport devoid of personalities can still be enjoyable, but isn’t a significant part of the enjoyment we derive from the game taken from discussing the individuality of the players we watch from week to week? If every player was as straight-laced as Stewart Downing or David Platt the game would surely lose some of its inherent attraction.
Of the same genus as Cantona, Asprilla and Di Canio, Balotelli is the latest in a long line of players whose erratic temperament has been fêted as another facet of their incredible footballing ability. However, perhaps because he is yet to produce consistently excellent performances for Manchester City, Balotelli is not presently held with quite the same esteem as his fellow erratic geniuses. Still only 20-years-old, there is plenty of time for that recognition to attach itself to his profile.
He’s arrogant, childish and frighteningly egotistical, but so what? Mario Balotelli is an entertainer and a brilliant footballer, can we really ask much more of our athletes? Like Puff Daddy, Balotelli didn’t shoot anyone, so why not just let Mario get on with being Mario?
Are you not entertained? The show goes on.