TSL Top Ten: Mario Balotelli Confronts Italian Racism Head-On – #9

The editorial staff at TSL took a look back at some of the biggest moments in 2013, by revisiting a few of our hardest-hitting pieces to round out the year. 

In this column from February 2013, James Carr analyzed racist tendancies of soccer crowds, expounded in Italy where racism is still prevelant in society. Mario Balotelli, a black wunderkind, brought this issue to the limelight, constantly berated with racist chants that paved his way for a move to England. Though he played for Manchester City two-and-half seasons, he was sold to AC Milan shortly after this column was written, where he continued experiencing racism, including from his own club.

#9 Racism in European Soccer is a Disease; Mario Balotelli is the Cure.

Mario Balotelli is a genius on the football pitch. Though the young striker has yet to put together a Robin Van Persie-like season yet, his flashes of brilliance show he has more than the necessary talent to replicate the success of many famed strikers. 

But to only discuss Balotelli's ability would barely scratch the surface of his story. The enigmatic striker has stories so ridiculous, he quickly entered the Tyson Zone of believable stories, including one about Balotelli commissioning a life-size statue of himself for his own house, that later turned out to be false. 

Balotelli is no ordinary soccer player. From his teenage years, his attitude reflected that he knew he was the best. “I had him on the bench in a game when he was 13, something he never liked,” said Michele Cavalli, a trainer at A.C. Lumezzane, where Balotelli learned his craft. “I sent him on when we were 1-0 down, he took on the whole defense and scored, only to do the same thing again but this time screw the ball wide. We drew 1-1 and I was convinced he missed to punish me, but when I asked him he just smiled.”

It would prove to be a rare smile from Balotelli, who has asked why he should smile when he scores because, after all, that is his job (though he occasionally lets a hint of a smile out when scoring for Italy). He claims he will smile when he scores a goal in the Champions League final.

His problem may be getting on the pitch for such an occasion. His wild antics both on and off the pitch make him an extreme liability, constantly maddening his manager, Roberto Mancini, at his current club in England, Manchester City. During the first week of January, the two had to be separated after fighting during training. Balotelli frequently gets into trouble, drawing both yellow and red cards due to rash challenges when he fails to control his anger. His reputation doesn't help, as close calls tend to go against him.

Fighting is just the tip of the iceberg for Balotelli, though, whose off-the-field antics make Workaholics look tame. Before the biggest match of his City career, a clash against rivals Manchester United, fire engines were called when Balotelli burned part of his 3 million house after fireworks were shot out of his bathroom at 1 am . Naturally, he scored the opening goal (and the second) to begin a rout of City's hated United, then lifted up his jersey to reveal an undershirt that read, “Why Always Me?” His timing could not have been more apt; he appeared on a fireworks safety campaign the following week .

His other antics include: Visiting a women's prison with his brother because it “intrigued them”; giving a homeless man 1,000 after winning 25,000 gambling; finding a truant boy watching Man City's practice who was skipping school because of bullies, taking him back to school and confronting the bully for him; throwing darts from a first-floor window at the youth team as a prank ; and — in a strong submission for quote of the year in 2010 — he was involved in a car crash on his way to training and when police questioned why he had 5,000 cash in his back pocket, he simply replied, “Because I am rich.

In that regard, Balotelli is in extremely rare company when it comes to minorities or immigrants in Italy, who, moreso than some countries in Europe, struggle to deal with racial tensions that swarm so many soccer games. Earlier this year, AC Milan midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng walked off the pitch after being subjected to repeated racist chants. The chants continued despite pleas from the PA announcer to stop, and the fact that it's 2013.

It is a problem that has long haunted the so-called beautiful game. It is a problem Mario Balotelli may, one day, help Italy and Europe overcome.

READ MORE: Racism in European Soccer is a Disease; Mario Balotelli is the Cure.


RELATED: The TSL Top 10: Richie Incognito and The Evolution of The N-Word – #10