It would seem on the way to Warsaw ‘Super’ Mario Balotelli managed to pick up a few more of those ‘1up’ mushrooms he found on the way to besieging England in Kiev. Finally all of that bravado, all of that personality, all of that rebellion produced a performance to match the reputation of football’s favourite enfant terrible. Following his demolition of one of the most arrogantly hyped defences in world football, the Mario wagon just rolled out of the garage with a darker blue paint-job and a subwoofer that induces heart palpitations. What’s more? I’m more than happy to jump onboard and I suspect I won’t be alone.
Balotelli’s band wagon is really more of a party boat (the ‘Balotelli Barge’ if you will), a whirlwind of flashing lights, deafening speakers, extravagant cocktails, flecks of questionable white powder and dilated pupils. It’s floating some way off the considerably larger Lionel Messi Yacht however, on board there are well dressed guests enjoying fine wine with delectable hors d’oeuvres whilst being serenaded by a skilled string quartet. They sneer down at the neighbouring boat with its thumping bass and strobe lights, but I think I know where I’d rather be.
When Mario Balotelli skipped past an alahmed Lahm and lashed home his second goal I found myself on my feet yelling his name, a wild grin spread across my face and my eyes wide with excitement – and I thought I was neutral. It was a strike that had pundits such as Alan Shearer on all fours panting and howling (I’m so sorry for making you imagine that).
Instead of sprinting off or waving up to the rapturous Italian fans, he tore off his jersey and glared into oblivion, athletic statuesque body tensed as the world erupted around him. It was a celebration Eric Cantona would have been proud of. Here is a man who has no time for respectfully progressing through his career, here is a man who wants to grab history by the short and curlies and make sure it knows it’s in its best interests to remember his name.
Football needs its Cantonas, its Gascoignes and its Balotellis. They breathe the charisma and personality into the sport that make it so infectious, they are vibrant volatile and visceral; real heroes that cement themselves into memory. They are a welcome change from the baffling yet sometimes bland brilliance of Messi and co.
I imagine that watching Mario hand the German’s a fat serving of their own rear-ends in the semi final had the deified Spanish team feel a rather mortal chill rush up their spines. They won’t be looking forward to facing Italy- that is for certain. Football needs Balotelli to walk out against Spain and fulfil his potential to mark himself as a great player, to give an individual performance worthy of Maradonna that remains pulsing and alive in popular memory.
It is no good being controversial and mediocre – as was very nearly the case with Mario. If you can’t cut it you just end up in the same boat as Joey Barton (his boat leaks, has a sputtering outboard motor and is driven by a scrawny bloke in a fake burberry hat if you were wondering). Balotelli must seize his moment or he will become a quirky footnote in european footballing history. Football needs Balotelli to remind everyone that it is the imperfections and raw features of the sport that make it beautiful. He’s already put one particularly arrogant footballing nation in its place, it’s time to snatch that irritating sense of entitlement from another and throw it to the floor. It’s time we all find out why it’s always him.