With Mario Balotelli moving across Europe from Inter to Manchester City, Football
November 2008: Balotelli’s biological parents conducted a series of low-key television interviews, stating their interest in becoming reacquainted with the son that they allowed a family from Brescia to adopt. The Ghanaian-born teenager attracted delicate publicity when he labelled his African family as glory hunters, and said he was not interested in meeting them again: “Nobody ever knew why they left me with my new family. But now I am a Serie A player, they want me back.”
November 2008: After bursting on to the scene last season under Roberto Mancini, it did not take long for animosity to begin with Inter’s new Coach, Jose Mourinho. Taking exception to the way that Balotelli was training on a day-to-day basis, Mourinho spoke out: “He trains at 25 per cent, if it was 50 per cent he could be one of the world’s best players.” Balotelli was sent to train with the club’s youth team for a couple of days before returning to the first-team fold.
January 2009: Balotelli’s lax attitude to training resurfaces. “Nothing has changed,” Mourinho complained, before suspending the striker from first-team activity for a month. Balotelli instructed his agent to find him a team to play for on loan until the end of the season, but Mourinho quashes any chance of him leaving: “I can’t accept this from somebody who is still a nobody, who hasn’t made it yet, who is still a talent with potential.”
February 2009: On turning 18, Balotelli obtained Italian citizenship and Under-21 Coach Pierluigi Casiraghi promptly called him up to represent his adopted nation for the first time. Casiraghi was holding a training camp in Trieste with a view to the summer’s upcoming European Under-21 Championships, but Balotelli was inexplicably late, and missed his flight. Claiming his overslept, the naturalised Italian had to drive himself to Trieste, where Casiraghi criticised his attitude.
February 2009: A thrilling 3-3 draw between Inter and Roma would have provided enough headlines of its own without the sub-plot of Balotelli’s involvement. He was targeted by the Roma fans and racially abused throughout, but his antics stole the show. He first seemingly dived to win a penalty which he then scored himself, further winding up the Roman Ultras who were goading him. After a second goal, Balotelli clearly looked towards the section of the Roma support that was abusing him and told them to shut up, before putting his finger to his lips in the direction of Christian Panucci. Roma did not take well to his apparent mockery of their veteran defender, and spent the rest of the match trying to kick respect into him. Roma were fined €8,000 for their fans’ racist chants.
April 2009: As well as Roma, Balotelli could now count Juventus amongst his enemies. During the 1-1 draw between Juve and Inter at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin, in which Balotelli scored, the racist abuse of the youngster reached new heights. Chants proclaiming “there are no black Italians” came from sections of the Juve support throughout the match. His case was not helped when he started outrageously show-boating on the ball, prompting Tiago to kick out and get sent off. Afterwards, the Old Lady’s President Giovanni Cobolli Gigli condemned the fans who abused Super Mario, whilst Inter President Massimo Moratti claimed he would have pulled him team off the pitch if he was present in the stadium. Although Balotelli proudly declared that he was “more Italian than the Juventus fans,” interesting theories circulated that it was Balotelli’s personality, rather than his ethnicity, than warranted such abuse.
May 2009: Balotelli was racially abused at other grounds he visited. There was a particular example at Chievo Verona, where Inter were held to a 2-2 draw. Horrendous songs targeted Balotelli during the match, although he had a measure of revenge. After scoring a screamer reminiscent of Marco van Basten’s famous goal, he insinuated for the Chievo fans to stop with a finger over his lips. Predictably, it worsened the situation and Balotelli was seen to swear at the home fans after the final whistle.