Early Doors

In defence of Balotelli

Early Doors

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Mario Balotelli: the gift that just keeps on giving. Once again the Italian has displayed his propensity to make headlines after his piece of showboating against LA Galaxy on Sunday night. Judging by the subsequent reaction, Early Doors is currently trying to ascertain how best to obtain tickets for the public flogging.

But what crime against football has provoked this latest controversy, this outpouring of moralising? If you haven't seen it yet, Super Mario chose to try and spin and score with a backheel when through on goal, resulting in his immediate substitution and a hissy fit of epic proportions.

After racking up thousands of pounds in parking fines, throwing darts at youth team players, spontaneously visiting a women's prison, dishing out £1,000 to a tramp, personally driving a young City fan to his school to confront a bully, grappling unsuccessfully with a bib and declaring himself allergic to grass, the City star has found another way to get himself on the back pages.

But as fury spilled forth and keyboards were tapped in anger following Balotelli's indulgent and ultimately self-defeating trick on Sunday night, ED couldn't let go of one thought: we are all Danny Mills.

Remember the anger and hurt etched across his face when Robert Pires and Thierry Henry tried to pass from a penalty against his Manchester City side in 2005? It was the fury of a man disgusted that his opponents would try something so unconventional and unimaginable. Something that, had it actually worked, would have become an iconic moment, just as Johan Cruyff's successful attempt with Jesper Olsen did in 1982.

But just like the two Arsenal men, Balotelli's fault lay in his failed execution. Disrespectful, perhaps, but would he have been substituted if he had actually scored?

It is also important to note that this was a friendly. A meaningless encounter. Though City, and David Brent-esque chief executive Garry Cook, will no doubt feel that Balotelli's antics were hardly conducive to increasing the penetration of their brand in a key market, to ED that makes it all the more laudable. Modern football is already far too devoted to the bottom line.

In any case, they aren't going to become the most loved club in North America thanks to James Milner's shuttling runs mesmerising a nation and creating a whole generation of avid consumers of everything Manchester City.

Free thinking might be dangerous to the brand, but it is football's lifeblood. And, ultimately, don't fans want to be entertained?

What if Antonin Panenka hadn't audaciously chipped his penalty down the middle at the European Championship in 1976? What if Cruyff hadn't executed his turn? What if Pele hadn't tried that magnificent dummy at the 1970 World Cup?

Of course Balotelli's little trick was not in the same class - if anything it was more of a lackadaisical take on the Zidane spin - but it is borne of the same motivation. Roberto Mancini, of course, was highly unimpressed and promptly substituted the striker, before exchanging heated words with his fellow Italian.

He said in his post-match press conference: "I hope this is a lesson for him. In football you always need to be professional, always serious and in this moment he wasn't professional. If you are serious, you can play 90 minutes. If not, you can come and sit by me on the bench.

"He needs to understand his behaviour has to be good in every game - not just in a final or a semi-final but every game. He knows he made a mistake. Football should always be serious and if you have a chance to score, you should score."

Football should always be serious. Really? In a pre-season friendly?

In fairness to Mancini, at least his decision to whip Balotelli off and give him a stern talking to was entirely consistent with the largely joyless way his team play. it's not as if Manchester City have set the Premier League alight with some scintillating performances under their Italian boss.

Such pragmatism was perfectly legitimate when attempting to secure a top-four finish, and achieving it last season, but surely City should have aspirations of playing with a touch more panache. It is strange, too, that it is Mancini who is waging a war against creativity, as he himself is responsible for one of the great audacious goals. ED won't apologise for linking to it twice in the space of two weeks.

Balotelli has his faults and his behaviour can be very detrimental to his side - just witness his ridiculous red card against Dynamo Kiev last season - but it is also telling that when critics assess Wayne Rooney's combustible
nature they usually conclude if you dulled that side of him then he
wouldn't be the same player. When Balotelli displays a similar
rebellious streak - albeit expressed in a very different, and in fact
much more palatable way - we are told it must be stamped out, as if it
were not a vital part of his makeup as well.

Ultimately, what do we want from our footballers? Eleven Michael Owen droids, playing expressionless football and delivering anodyne press conferences after a functional 1-0 win?

Football is already over sanitised as it is, and the way the media treats players is a symptom of the same problem.

When any minor dissent is presented as a 'blast' at a manager, or when a cheeky comment from Joey Barton on Twitter can be blown into 500 words of self-righteous indignation in the Daily Star, is it any wonder that a young, media-trained player resorts to a string of meaningless clichés in a post match interview.

Plenty of players are far more expressive than they are given credit for, but are cowed into claiming that "at the end of the day, I'm over the moon" for fear that any unconventionality will be seized upon.

Sadly it appears that suppression of expression is spreading to the pitch as well.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "If you wish to hear the evidence presented for and against at the hearing in an impartial way, then my lawyers have already said and requested that the transcript should be made available to the media by FIFA so that you can judge the evidence and testimony for yourself. I have nothing to hide and I hope FIFA will not use confidentiality as an excuse. This is the most serious of issues for anyone to ever have to face. My entire reputation and history are on the line. Given how the panel is appointed, does anyone really expect them to take any decision against FIFA? That is not justice. I need justice." - Mohamed Bin Hammam, who helped Qatar secure the right to host the 2022 World Cup finals, demands transparency after being banned for life for corruption.

FOREIGN VIEW: "My grandfather won it, my father won it and now I have won it. It is a pride for the family ... we are happy, for all of Uruguay, for everyone, to celebrate." - Diego Forlan continues the family tradition by helping Uruguay to secure their 15th Copa America title. His two goals in the final saw him draw level with the country's record goalscorer, Hector Scarone, on 31 international games.

COMING UP: The final instalment of our summer series cataloguing the greatest side in Premier League history concludes with the out-and-out striker this week. The shortlist will be up for your perusal at lunch time. Meanwhile, Paul Parker also brings us his latest column.

In the cricket, we are poised for a thrilling conclusion to the first Test between England and India at Lord's. On the fifth day, England need nine wickets to win and India need another 378 runs. Make sure you follow all the action here.

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