Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

City bad boy Balotelli back with a bang

Mario Balotelli (centre)
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson leaves the pitch after losing 6-1 against Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: Referee Mark Clattenburg shows a red card to Jonny Evans of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on October 23, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

It seems inconceivable that a T-shirt of such ironic and self-deprecating proportions could be the idea of a young Italian who has needed a fair bit of persuasion to stick at his English lessons, but the garment which will always belong to Manchester's 6-1 derby was, indeed, a product of Mario Balotelli's fertile imagination.



“I did it for many reasons, but I'll leave it for other people to figure out what it means,” he said yesterday.

“I'm sure people can work it out.” City's kitman, Les Chapman, was commandeered for the task. “I told him the words and he printed them. He is a good guy Chappy, one of the best!”

The 21-year-old certainly needed to be as swift of mind as of feet to dream up “Why always me?”, which he pulled over his head 36 hours after leaving his smoke-damaged home in the hamlet of Mottram St Andrew, though a capacity for satire is an aspect of Balotelli's repertoire far less appreciated here than in Italy.

One of his most memorable TV appearances back home was in the show Le Iene, whose presenters doorstep celebrities and send them up. The Italian sports press had been reporting how Balotelli was completing his exams while playing for Internazionale so the programme tested his general knowledge at Inter's training ground.

We see Balotelli reciting lines from a Giosue Carducci poem while jogging and answering on the life and times of Napoleon in the midst of press-ups. He does it deadpan. The presenters are creased up.

It is hard not to smile today, either, at the sight of Balotelli holding up a poster urging young people to follow the firework code though there is certainly no joke intended by City's attempt to salvage something from the latest calamitous event in their irrepressible player's life: a house fire caused by a firework going off in his bathroom at 1am on Saturday.

Cheshire Police have closed their investigation into the incident, as there was no criminal intent, and the striker's irresistible display on Sunday meant that he could be presented as Greater Manchester's most improbable champion of firework safety yesterday.

“It is an important message that children should not mess with fireworks. They can be very dangerous if they are not used in the right way,” said Balotelli, blaming a friend for releasing a firework from his bathroom — “a really stupid thing for him to do”, as he described it.

Such are the fine lines between triumph and disaster. The rocket he would have received had he failed to deliver at Old Trafford might have been the finishing of him. Joe Hart said yesterday his team-mate had come of age.

“He's a frustrating character from the outside, and sometimes from the inside too. But this season, certainly in recent weeks, he's left all that behind him,” Hart said.

It certainly felt like a landmark, as Balotelli was spotted driving round city-centre Manchester in a Bentley convertible, music blaring and high-fiving City fans.

Privately, Balotelli is indignant about his characterisation in the British press which casts him as a liability rather than the celebrity he remains to an obsessed Italian media.

“I don't care what people say about me,” he said. “People are interested in my private life, but the thing at the weekend didn't come from me, it came from one of my friends and one of my brother's friends.

“In a bad period people can talk about you and say what they want. What anyone else says is not important.”

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