Mario Balotelli – Empathy for Football’s Man-Child

Mario Balotelli
“Get used to me, I am not getting used to anyone; I shouted my laughter to the stars.” (Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks)

Now that he’s left, it’s given me the time and more importantly the patience to objectively unravel Mario Balotelli.

Football, though referred to as a sport which has lived through many like a soul, injecting myriad emotions and reactions, has failed to pump the same breath into those who become mere spectators from once being watched as players. The explicit nature of reactions towards the sport and in it often constitute a moral code where what is expected and accepted is sketched on the white pages and all else on the darker side. Mario Balotelli, an interesting figure in today’s footballing world, has often found himself locked in the dark forbidden pages of football. The ephemeral nature of the sport often highlights achievements, however Mario has much more to offer the memories of those who love the sport.

If you have only one passion in life - football - and you pursue it to the exclusion of everything else, it becomes very dangerous. When you stop doing this activity it is as though you are dying. The death of that activity is a death in itself.”  (Eric Cantona)
If you have only one passion in life – football – and you pursue it to the exclusion of everything else, it becomes very dangerous. When you stop doing this activity it is as though you are dying. The death of that activity is a death in itself.” (Eric Cantona)

Mario never had much love towards normality from an early age. Born in a family of immigrants, he had health issues that were considered life-threatening as an infant. He wasn’t allowed to familiarise himself with consistency as his parents moved to a different city when he was only two. At age three, the parents couldn’t keep up with the demanding illness and decided to look for foster care which led to Balotelli finding himself being raised by two motherly figures (both with completely different mindsets and approach to life). The process of relating to home and parents wasn’t very forgiving to him as his mind was being moulded by differing ideas and surroundings. He famously intimated an account, when at an early age, he used to wash himself with bleach to not look out of place in his family. He later on drifted from the confusion and opted to adopt the name Balotelli, which comes from his foster parents.

Identity crisis.
Identity crisis.

When this trend finds itself under scrutiny, Balotelli finds himself next to the Roman mythological god Janus. The god of beginnings and transitions, often depicted as having two faces looking into both past & future; war & peace. Balotelli’s transition starts from the social and cultural elements his biological parents carried with them from Ghana. It continues with the travels and foster care, leaving him with a complex set of values to acquire. The idea of not belonging stems from these deep rooted experiences, and he later on claims being Italian with no expression of love towards his ancestral country. Like Janus, Balotelli has two faces: one that he has adopted (Italian) and one that he was born with (Ghanaian), two names: Barwuah reflecting his biological parents and Balotelli reflecting his foster parents, two images: one portraying his skill and one portraying his unaccepted behaviour.

“I am Italian, I am Italian, I am Italian, I feel Italian, I will forever play with the Italy national team” (Balotelli)
“I am Italian, I am Italian, I am Italian! I feel Italian! I will forever play with the Italy national team” (Mario Balotelli)

This duality has surrounded him for long and glimpses of it are seen in his behaviour that is widely labelled as childish; a child trapped in a man’s body. It seems not the nervousness that drives this behaviour, but rather an unusual fear of responsibility and adapting. He keeps the shadow of his childhood with him, and carries it around because he doesn’t see himself belonging to any social group or community fuelled by the incidents such as racist chants and the scapegoat treatments. The child is therefore his only companion, and one he doesn’t seem to want to bid farewell to. It can be said that amid all the media attention he gets as a shadow, the child has also responded as the archetype but has invaded the persistent gaze of the media; apart from the generous contributions to charity, glimpses of the inner child can be seen in incidents such as confronting the school bullies. He was marginalised as an Italian youth international by his own team-mates and coaches. An outcast in his own haven of football, facing traumatising racism, a soft target for the flying two-footed tackles, and stray elbows, he turned towards escapism through mindless trivialities at a ripe-old-age of 12. Trivialities, humour in the form of escapism in the face of cynicism and adversity are the only defense mechanisms a child’s mind can muster. And that child, stunted by the sheer disappointments that reality offered, never accepted its terms. Forgive him, if he can’t take the profession of being a footballer with a straight face. He’s grateful, but never indebted.

Balotelli 3
“When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for a variety of reasons, we can no longer breathe” (Frantz Fanon)

Amid the Janus comparison and the Peter Pan complex, the notion of who is responsible and who is to blame for the reputation that Balotelli has earned sits idle. His behaviour precedes his skill and has hence placed itself as a thorn in the path of him achieving his true potential. For most part of his career, he has provided colour to the pale canvas of media for all the wrong reasons. Will he ever achieve his potential? The question asks a lot, but there is little to answer. Much depends on whether he will be accepted for what he is as a person; to the footballing world, not as a meta-human or automaton that is the modern footballer, but a child who just relishes a happy kickabout. A child who never grew up.

We ask you, how horrible is that?