Ciao Balo – Goodbye Mario Balotelli
It is over. With a palpable sense of relief comes the news he has gone. The circus has moved on to pastures new, and the Milanese traffic wardens are already planning their Caribbean cruises, a urine-soaked camouflaged Bentley is being shipped over to north Italy, and one fire-damaged house is now available to rent (bathroom number 2 may need some cosmetic work).
A thousand journalists sit back in a pub vault somewhere near Wapping and weep salty tears, the realisation dawning over the horizon that their ready supply of stories has just dried up. The well is dry, and stories about snowball-throwing ball-boys and Mancini’s new hair-dryer are just not good enough. After all, my Manchester City 2011/12 season review (available in no good bookshops) was little more than a Balotelli blog with the odd league title and derby win thrown in.
The fabricated stories won’t be missed. The Santa handing out money in the streets of Manchester, the man buying everyone’s petrol at a station, the casino win given to a homeless man, the eight months he spent as a chef at Abode, the time his mother sent him out to buy an ironing board but instead he bought an elephant (African), the time he pole-vaulted into a women’s prison before releasing everyone with a pick made out of ivory. Allegedly.
This was the season that Balotelli needed to push on, and was expected to after a great Euros performance with Italy. He didn’t, and his fate was sealed, to the extent that City got rid without sorting out a replacement, even seemingly fashioning up fake interest from Juventus to ensure their valuation was met (almost). A strong training-ground tackle on Scott Sinclair (remember him?) was dismissed by most City fans as another mountain carved from a molehill by the nation’s hacks, but as Mancini indulged in some Greco-Roman wrestling with his wayward adopted son, the final straw drifted to the ground.
Balotelli could have been played more this season, he could have had an extended run to prove his worth (after all, none of City’s other strikers have consistently performed well this season), but Mancini could not trust him out on the pitch, and if Mancini can’t trust him, then what is left apart from a blond Mohican, a back-to-front bib and a succession of club fines?
He is no longer a kid, no longer exempt from performing regularly on a football pitch. And that’s the crux. However many extra-curricular stories emerged, the only important thing was whether he performed on the pitch, and he didn’t perform well often enough. His scoring record was average (magnificent penalties apart), his assist tally virtually non-existent (with one glorious exception), his work-rate and overall contribution rarely stood out. He had his moments of course, but these became false dawns in the end. One step forward, two back. He rose to the occasion when it mattered in our winning FA Cup run. He destroyed United in the 6-1 rout at Old Trafford and he provided the assist that won the league.
But I’m sorry, that is not enough. Some City fans have claimed we wouldn’t have won the league without him, but that is a spurious argument as a more productive striker could have helped sew up the league in March. A better striker could have made the difference in Europe, could have seen us win the Carling Cup amongst other things. That’s not to attach blame to Balotelli for every failure, but he has not been City’s saviour. His one assist may have been the most important in our club’s history, but it’s still not enough. A red card was never far away, and even though he didn’t deserve half of them, it got to the point where you were holding your breath when he was on the pitch, a perfect example being West Brom away this season, when his dismissal seemed only a matter of time even though he hadn’t really done that much wrong.
Balotelli has perhaps split City fans, divided them down party lines, more than any other player in living memory. Many are gutted to see him go. I can see why I guess. For me, like many others, there was the hope that he would stick it to the media and fulfil his potential in sky blue. But for me it that point seemed to be getting further and further away. His life in this country had become a media circus, his reputation on the pitch made him a scapegoat for referees. There was just no chance of him getting a fair crack of the whip anymore, though this was a situation he had helped create. Football needs characters, and another character has left English football, but it wasn’t City’s responsibility to keep him here at the expense of the team.
Of course, my opinions are shaped from a clinical, cold view, without sentiment. But there is sentiment there, there is warmth towards this enigmatic young man. I hold no malice towards Balotelli, and I do hope he fulfils his potential and has a successful career, just not against City. This may be a move that suits all sides. Because at the end of the day, Mancini staked a slice of his reputation on Balotelli, and it backfired. You feel Mancini has let him go begrudgingly, perhaps a decision that wasn’t entirely his. City could have done this in the summer, and planned accordingly, they could have given him yet more time to develop, but it seems in the end their patience snapped and it was felt it was time to sever ties.
Balotelli, the bored kid in class, unwilling to mature and knuckle down had run out of chances.
Of course this is Balotelli. He may fail to turn up for the medical. He may go to Inter by accident. He may fail the medical due to an injury caused by crashing his penny farthing into the gates outside the training ground. I don’t really care. I’m sad to say that the news of his impending departure resulted in little more than a shrug of the shoulders. I’m fed up, bored of it all, I’m afraid. City are now a force in football, competing for the biggest prizes. We need players to match. To the best penalty-taker in the world, ciao Balo, and all the best. You played your part in taking this club to the top, and won’t be forgotten, but it’s time for a new start for us all. And if football doesn’t work out for you, there’s always darts.
My Manchester City: 2011/12 Season Review book is available on Amazon.