16 June 2014

A boffo bid for Balotelli? But he's bonkers!

One of the rumors now making the rounds is that Arsenal have put in a £25m bid for Mario Balotelli. Whether it's true or not is, of course, another story, as the original source on the this bid is the Daily Express, but after seeing us lose Fabianski to Swansea and Sagna to City, not to mention passing on Fàbregas, the natives are getting restless. Toss in a rumored Vermaelen move to Old Trafford, and we might as well cue the angry mob, which is sharpening pitchforks and lighting torches as we speak. A move for Mario "Why always me?" Balotelli, low-ball though it may be, could be just crazy enough to work. We are, after all, discussing a player just as notorious for off-pitch antics as he is for moments of brilliance on the pitch.

My first reaction was to lump Balotelli in with Luis Suárez, another mercurial player prone to offenses to humanity. I spent all summer inveighing against our pursuit of the 'ungry Uruguayan, worrying that he would again sink his teeth into an opponent and receive far-worse than a ten-game ban, leaving us £40,000,001 and a striker short. However, Balotelli seems cut from a different kind of cloth, and while I doubted that Arsène could bring the likes of Suárez to heel, Balotelli strikes me as someone desperately in need of the kind of support and guidance that a manager like Arsène offers. Going beyond the X's and O's, beyond formations or strategy or tactics, Balotelli seems to crave a manager who can do more than maximize his performance on the pitch, and I daresay that Arsène can offer that.

Balotelli had a tumultuous childhood. According to this piece in The Times of Israel, soon after his birth, he suffered from severe intestinal problems that required surgeries and other treatments too expensive for his Ghanaian parents. After they requested government assistance, they were made to put him into foster care, and it was Silvia and Francesco Balotelli, Italian Jews who had survived the Holocaust, who took him in. From the beginning, he stayed with the Balotellis during the week and returned to his biological parents on weekends. Over time, he came to to feel closer to the Balotellis and started to distance himself from his biological parents, rejecting them (as the article says) as "glory hunters" who were only interested in him once he started to enjoy success as a footballer.

It's hard to imagine the effects that these upheavals and traumas may have had on the lad—the surgeries, the separation from his biological parents and complicated custody arrangement with the Balotellis—not to mention the weight of sudden, improbable fame before most teenagers have had a full shave. Whatever insecurities or unresolved issues that may have developed early in his life could have been helped by the onrush of fame and fortune—and those issues certainly were not helped by Balotelli's relationships with previous managers, most notably Jose Mourinho, who seems to have treated him (wait for it) callously and capriciously. Was Balotelli without blame in these instances? No. Might he have responded better with less-withering public criticism from his manager? More than likely. Things were little better under Mancini, although he was generous enough to say he say that he considered Balotelli "one of my children." However, like Mourinho, his support of Balotelli seemed contingent on Balotelli's on-pitch performances: score a goal, get support. Make a mistake, get mocked in the media. We don't know, of course, what transpired behind closed doors, and hindsight is 20-20, but it's hard to see how the treatment Balotelli received (endured? suffered?) from his managers to this point has helped grow as a player or a person.

His, er, indiscretions are famous, of course, and there's little I can say or do to sweep them under the rug. In fact, they seem like cries for help from a man-child struggling to come to terms with who he is. I don't know if Arsène can be the manager Balotelli needs, but with AC Milan apparently ready to move him on with Inzaghi's blessings, I'd love for the stories of an Arsenal bid to be true. After all, if we were serious with a £40m bid for Suárez, a £25m bid for Balotelli could feel like a bargain, especially if Arsène can soothe whatever inner torment compels Balotelli to do what he has done in the past. For what it's worth, he's gone through two seasons in Serie A virtually incident-free. If the weight of his reputation is causing his transfer-fee to sink, so much the better for us, as we could very well have found a striker whose value Arsène agrees with. When Mario's on, he is among the most-exciting players on the planet. The key, of course, is figuring out how to make sure he doesn't fall off the track.

submit to reddit