Can Super Mario Steal the Show at the World Cup?

Mario Balotelli is 23 years old. At first thought, he feels older, because he was only 17 when he made his Serie A debut for Inter Milan in late 2007. I mean, in 2007, Cristiano Ronaldo was playing for Manchester United, teammates with Gary Neville, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, and a young Gerard Pique. David Beckham was in his first season for the LA Galaxy. Avram Grant had recently been hired to replace Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager.

The point is, Mario Balotelli seems, at first glance, older than he really is, because he’s been playing for a while. But in reality he’s much younger than his age.

I’m not saying that he’s stupid, but rather that he’s child-like. And it’s not always in a bad way. When you imagine Balotelli as an 8-year-old boy, everything about him makes sense.

He sometimes does or says things that he shouldn’t. Things that a 35-year-old experienced professional would never do, but an 8-year-old would. He sometimes seems to lose concentration; disappearing from games. If you’ve ever met an 8-year-old boy, you know that they aren’t the most focused. But in Euro 2012, and the 2013 Confederations Cup, he shined. For Italy, he’s scored 12 goals in 30 apps, and 7 in 13 last year alone. Of his 12 goals, 10 came in competitive fixtures, while one of the friendly goals was against Brazil.

None can argue that Mario Balotelli has the talent to succeed.

But many people argue his play. I don’t want to hear anyone say that Balotelli had a bad season for Milan in 2013-14. It wasn’t good, per se, but 14 goals is nowhere near bad. If anyone except Balotelli would’ve scored 14 goals, they’d be praised, and rewarded with a National Team call-up (unless they’re Brazilian, Spanish, German, or Samir Nasri). Yeah, he has the talent to score 30 goals a year, but does he have the responsibility to? No way. Players should never be compared to their potential. They should be compared to other players.

Balotelli gets far too much criticism from the media. Either because of something he did or said that’s being blown out of proportion (if he doesn’t put cheese on a ham and cheese sandwich it would be called a scandal) or because he isn’t getting Messi or Ronaldo numbers (how dare he?!) or because he’s Mario Balotelli and they just want to stick microphones and cameras into his face.

How do you think an 8-year-old would react to that?

Mario Barwuah was born on August the 12th, 1990 to Ghanaian immigrants, in Palermo, Italy. He eventually adopted the last name of his foster parents, Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, Jewish-Italians (the latter’s parents were Holocaust survivors).

Not all Italians are racist. But racism is a very big problem in Italy. Their dislike of foreigners almost lost them a very good soccer player; Balotelli couldn’t get Italian citizenship until age 18, even though he was born in Italy. They don’t treat immigrants like they do in other countries (*cough*USA*cough*). When Balotelli was 17, Ghana called him up. He declined, stating that he wished to play for Italy.

Life wasn’t easy for Balotelli. As I said, racism is a problem in Italy. A story goes that Balotelli one time attempted to wash off the dark color from his skin with hot water. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it encapsulates the hardship he went through.

Despite all this, he still loved Italy. When he got Italian citizenship, he said that it was “more exciting that making [his] debut in Serie A.” Two days short of his 20th birthday, in Italy’s first game after the 2010 World Cup, the then-soon-to-be Manchester City forward made his first appearance for Italy. Some people turned off their TVs in disgust of seeing a black player play for Italy. This is 2010, by the way, not 1910.

Mario Balotelli is Italian. He’s Italian whether they want him to be or not. He’s Italian whether they deserve him or not.

In my opinion he’s the only player on the team who can make this Italy team do great virtually by himself. Andrea Pirlo is fantastic, but he’s not the guy to score the iconic goals. Italy have a lot of obstacles to win a World Cup, but if they do win it, Mario Balotelli will have a key role in it.

Balotelli is playing to earn respect for himself, and to earn respect for other Italians who may have different ethnic backgrounds. If a black player helps Italy win a World Cup, don’t you think that racism would decrease at least to a certain extent? He’s not just playing to earn respect for himself in the country of Italy, but also in the world. He’s viewed as either a failure or just stupid to many people. They think he’s talented, but they punish him for not showing it.

But in his mind, I’m sure, he’s not really thinking about that. He wants to help his beloved Italy win. And he wants to play soccer. Just like he did as a child.


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