When Brescia President Massimo Cellino announced that he was bringing Mario Balotelli back to Lombardy this summer, there were mixed feelings of expectations and fear. The return of the lost son has only confirmed the reason why he left in the first place.
It of course pleased his mother to see her son return to his roots. She publicly welcomed the player back to Brescia with open arms, and it seemed like the fans and the team did the same. In expectance of a new leader for their newly promoted ranks, they were all admiring the possibilities of using the 29-year-old’s vast experience from top teams in England and France. But experience doesn’t always go hand in hand with maturity.
The football player Balotelli is as inconsistent as the person, but when he’s on form, he’s arguably one of the greatest talents out there. His behaviour off the pitch, on the other hand, attracted him unwanted attention at an early age. Combining the exciting prospect on the football pitch with the escapades he has pulled off the pitch throughout the years, the stories are too many to be listed. The tales of success are braided with the off-pitch antics and the former Inter man has gone from hero to villain in seconds wherever he goes.
After ending a fairly successful spell in Ligue 1, also then somewhat troubled by his relationship to coaches and fans, the player returned to Italy to find a country that hadn’t changed since he left. He had previously stated that he wouldn’t return, and the motivation became clearer with each week he had been back.
Balotelli is a person that needs to be protected by his club and the latest events at Brescia are showing no signs of awareness. The constant pressure from the journalists isn’t really helping the boy either. Already before his first appearance at the club, a video of Balotelli smoking a cigarette circulated in the media and you could sense the kind of exposure he would be dealing with. But he didn’t do too badly on the pitch, it actually looked promising. He just needed to find his feet again – give him some time to shine. Cigarette or no cigarette.
He didn’t get time to put out the cigarette before burning his fingers on a glowing filter tip. Because in November, Balotelli understandably reacted very strongly to racist chants from some sections of the Hellas Verona crowd. The player kicked the ball towards the source of the monkey noises in the stands, refused to continue and tried to leave the pitch. In the end he was convinced by his teammates and the opposition to stay on and even scored. However, in the aftermath, Balotelli had to fight his corner, mostly on his own.
And it’s been boiling ever since. The attention continues to follow him, and his own immaturity is of course not helping. But the fact that he doesn’t feel welcome in his own country is particularly sad for a man who has brought the nation some good memories also through the Azzurri.
Journalists have been surrounding Balotelli again, waiting for it to boil over. And eventually it did. The Brescia fans didn’t even take his side, claiming they were embarrassed with his reaction and mental state during the game against Hellas Verona. A clash with the new coach Fabio Grosso on the training ground led to the player leaving the facilities during a session and President Cellino didn’t do a great deal to calm the situation. He rather threw fresh cogs into the fireplace with some thought-provoking language to describe the player’s state of mind.
The culture in Italy doesn’t help and the saddest part is that the solution might be for Balotelli to flee. Change environment completely. A reported move to Turkey might not help. It’s too close to home. The interest from MLS might actually be able to save his career. He’s only 29 years old. A young man in most other professions.
His abilities are proven to be more than qualified to participate in any top league in Europe. It’s the mentality that stops him from greatness. It’s become a well-known risk to hire Balotelli as your main man and it’s not the first time he’s been told to thicken up. He needs to be protected; he needs an environment that supports him no matter what.
A potential transfer to America might even get him out of the media for a while. Other stars have found their quiet places in the US, left to their own and maybe not as highly regarded as footballers are in Europe. But it’s all very sad to see a player flee because of what’s rooted as a cultural behavioural problem.
It’s understandable that the treatment makes him feel foreign in his own country, but if the solution is that such a talent should be left to his own on a different continent, maybe it’s not just Balotelli who needs to look himself in the mirror.