Early Doors

Mario’s made-up Santa spree

Early Doors

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Last week's big Mario Balotelli story was not the goal he scored against Chelsea, and certainly not his lively performance in yesterday's win over Arsenal yesterday.

It wasn't even his umpteenth training ground bust-up, in which he bumped mini-mohawks with Micah Richards.

No, it was the rumour that swept Twitter like wildfire on Saturday evening.

'Mario Balotelli is driving round Manchester dressed as Santa Claus, and he's handing out money to passers-by.'

This was taking place the night before a huge game against Arsenal, and the rumour gathered steam despite the fact nobody had bothered taking a photo of Papa Mario dispensing Christmas cheer.

One brave hack even risked ridicule by asking Roberto Mancini about it after yesterday's game.

The manager's reply: "I don't know - with Mario it is possible! We should ask him. It could be, I don't know."

Now, of course the story was absolute rubbish. So too, apparently, were his donation of £1,000 to a homeless man outside a casino, his confronting of a school bully and his team-mates filling his Maserati with rotting fish.

But he has also been involved in lots of genuinely crazy things. The fireworks, the darts, the parking tickets and the bib, for example.

So we have reached a point where you cannot dismiss any Balotelli story out-of-hand - even if you're the manager.

Frankly, you could concoct any tall tale about the Italian and part of you would believe it (certainly you would want to).

US columnist Bill Simmons has described this as the 'Tyson Zone' - where somebody becomes so unpredictable you will accept anything you hear about them.

Balotelli releases album of Aerosmith covers? Balotelli turns up for training on a toddler's tricycle? Balotelli buys 1,000 Fendi handbags for underprivileged school children? Balotelli runs for parliament as UKIP candidate?

You couldn't write any of those off out of hand.

It is a perfect storm for the media. The more famous Balotelli gets for doing crazy things, the more interest there will be in the next story.

And the more we come to know him as a man capable of almost infinite lunacy, the more readily we will swallow the latest concoction of half-truths and hearsay.

On October 24, a guy who works for Umbro (@chrisdolan) tweeted an amusing anecdote about Balotelli - as follows:

"I've just heard a Mario Balotelli story that betters Tesco & the fireworks. OK, so his mum's over from Italy, asks the cleaner if she has everything she needs. Cleaner: "No, I need all the practical things - iron etc." Mario's mum: "Where can we go to buy these things? Write me a list and we'll go and buy it all" Cleaner: "John Lewis" So Mario's ma sends him & his mates to John Lewis with a shopping list in hand. Mario returns to the house 5 hrs later...empty-handed. Cleaner: "Er, where's the iron, iron-board etc?" Then a big John Lewis van arrives. Van contains nothing from the shopping list bt the following 'practical items': - giant trampoline, Scalextric, 2 Vespas, table tennis set."

Amusing stuff, even if Dolan himself did not appear to really believe this. Understandably since you quite obviously cannot buy Vespas from John Lewis. Really, you can't. Check.

No matter. Two days later this tall tale turned up as a full-page story in The Sun.

It was reported as cold, hard fact, even though the story got Balotelli's mother's name wrong (she's Silvia, not Silvio) and their only source was Dolan - referred to as "an insider".

The Sun's story is here.

Honestly, it was an absolutely disgraceful piece of journalism (and this is coming from Early Doors) - but who cares! It's Balotelli! Nobody's going to mind!

When things happen to Balotelli, people often chuckle: "You couldn't make it up!" Well, you could, and people do. Often.

In a way, Balotelli is on to a good thing. While the Italians disliked his oddball behaviour, the English lap it up. We love Mario, so who cares if a bit of poetic licence (read: total fabrication) takes place?

It was the same for Jose Mourinho. Madcap tales of hiding in laundry bins and getting arrested over a dog became vastly embellished and accepted as fact.

However, unlike Mourinho, who was also accepted as a brilliant manager, Balotelli's status as a figure of fun is preventing his football from being recognised.

He is having a terrific season, and his 11 goals and all-round play are a major reason for Manchester City's success.

He has been at least as important as more established praise-receptacles such as Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, yet he is still viewed as flaky and unreliable.

It is time to embrace Mario Balotelli fully - not just for what he does (or doesn't do) off the pitch, but also for what he does on it.

QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND: "I should have done better but, when you don't see the ball, it's hard to do something differently. I'll have to see the goal but the feeling I had on the pitch is this is not a goal I can be proud of." Petr Cech after his howler at Wigan - he should probably trust the feeling he had on the pitch.

FOREIGN VIEW: Barcelona crushed Santos 4-0 to win the Club World Cup yesterday, and Early Doors was heartened to see just how seriously the Brazilian side's star man Neymar takes the competition.

"It's impossible to stop Barcelona," he said. "They are the best team in the world with fantastic players.

"But we are the second-best team in the world and for us that is a great reward."

The third-best team in the world are Al-Sadd Sports Club, and the fourth-best are Kashiwa Reysol. OK?

COMING UP: Championship action between Crystal Palace and Birmingham City at 19:45 UK time.

Before that, weekend reaction from Paul Parker, the latest Pitchside Europe blog and a whole heap of Premier League videos.

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