Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

James Lawton: Concern for Mario Balotelli's agent

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22: Mario Balotelli of Manchester City checks on Scott Parker of Tottenham Hotspur after he suffered a blow to the head during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Even though hardly a day passes now without the phrase "mad as a box of Balotellis" burrowing a little deeper into common usage, the first full public statement by his agent was still a little startling.

If at times Mario seems to spend much of his time in his own private universe, his closest professional adviser does not appear the ideal candidate to organise periodic returns to Planet Earth.



His declaration, "The FA must defend Mario, otherwise he may think of leaving England," may be risible but it should also be alarming.



If Balotelli has an especially pressing need it is for everyone who cares for him to try to push him towards reality – not in precisely the opposite direction.



Mino Raiola also wants a life ban for the World Cup final referee Howard Webb, for saying that his second look at Balotelli's stomach-wrenching stamping of Scott Parker on Sunday told him that he had completely under-assessed the nastiness of the offence.



The worry is, of course, that a 21-year-old of sumptuous football gifts but a completely unprogrammed understanding of how most normal human beings are required to prosecute their lives is both beyond sound advice and exposed to some which, certainly on the evidence provided by Signor Raiola, would hardly make it on to the back of a packet of cereal.



Yes, we know Mario has some amazing gifts but at the moment, Mino, we are not discussing some amiably loony departure from the demands of the professional life but an incident which helped shaped one of the most important football games likely to be played this season in the Premier League. This involved the application of Balotelli's boot to the unprotected face of a fallen opponent.



It was disturbing confirmation that amid the stories of impromptu generosity, firework displays in his own bathroom, and a disciplinary record that his manager, Roberto Mancini, would like to consign to one of the deeper recesses of hell, there is a rather darker realty.



It is that Balotelli is incapable of controlling his instincts in almost any situation – and certainly the one in which he is cast as a public performer. This is not a quality to celebrate – or even, let's be serious, to tolerate.



Certainly it provides, at least from this perspective, not the scintilla of a reason to see his exit from our football life as anything approaching a national calamity.



Not being present when the agent made his statement, it is hard to know how closely his facial expression resembled that of Jack Nicholson after his character had received electric shock treatment in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but the following few sentences must provoke at least some speculation...



"If I find there is something strange against Mario, my duty is to protect and take him away. I'd speak with City, ask them his price and look for the best team for him as there are only six or seven clubs he can play for."



Real Madrid is not one of them, we know for sure. When at Internazionale, Jose Mourinho announced that the boy, undoubtedly gifted, simply wasn't worth the trouble. Mourinho said that the best of his players were required to train and behave like professionals. It was the only basis on which to build a team. After the Parker incident, Tottenham's Harry Redknapp merely said that he was glad he did not have to explain the player's behaviour. It had no place on a football field.



Some now suggest that because of his youth – and the degree of his talent – Balotelli requires special treatment and understanding. It is one of the most bizarre propositions ever made in England football since Arsène Wenger, approaching his first great crest of achievement at Arsenal, said that if referees and the Football Association's disciplinary committee did not exercise a little more restraint his new signing Patrick Vieira might well pack his bags and head for the airport.



No matter that Vieira, for all his outstanding gifts, was performing at the time as though his personal mission was to take on the role of a one-man Apache war party.



No matter, now, that Balotelli has lurched from one bizarre, discipline-free incident after another into behaviour that threatened serious injury, even the blinding, of a fellow professional.



The call for a special understanding still goes out. "Be careful," warns Signor Raiola, "or Mario may leave. He is happy to stay but he doesn't understand certain things, they sadden him."



This is all funny enough, on a somewhat desperate level, but then you think about it for a minute or two and what do you find? It is an invitation to open the box and live with the consequences. What, you have to wonder, is keeping the men in the white coats?