Mario Balotelli: Arrested Development

by quavaro

I

Space

The area of the average football pitch in the English Premiership is 8414 square yards, which just seems like so many square yards. There is space for 22 players to freely unleash their abilities, space on which unobtrusive rules mean that tactical choice and contingency alternately dictate the shape of the game in a nearly uninterrupted flow. The action is easy to understand yet impossible to predict, and there is so much space for creativity and chaos; heroes and villains; inspiration and extravagance; brilliance and ill-advised bluster.

Etihad Stadium

II

Etiquette

There is a somewhat subtle distinction between a delightful goal and a “disrespectful” or domineering goal, and it’s mostly context: both are likely to be audacious attempts, but a dazzling goal is all the more miraculous in the face of assiduous defending, because the play might not have come off any other way. Still, a play that is domineering might be appreciated if it looks really cool. The most insulting part of Mario Balotelli’s backheel for me was that it was a poor effort, clumsy and perhaps half-hearted, and that it missed.

III

Two Way Monologues

At Manchester City, Roberto Mancini has signed some of the greatest talents in the world and seemingly employed them in a campaign to minimize variables. Exciting players who still require development upon arrival at Eastlands look unremarkable and out of place. Mario Balotelli, a man who could feel alone at a marshmallow roast, has entered this confining yet less than nurturing environment to advance his career and get his chance to shine. Mancini has, at Inter and then at Manchester City, helped Balotelli control his disciplinary indiscretions, but has not helped him blossom on the pitch due to tactical incompatibility. For me it recalls Robin van Persie’s problems early in his career. Once van Persie found a club and system into which he fit, the attitude and discipline followed, or perhaps simply improved as he became an adult. Both aspects have to fall into place for Balotelli if he is to realize his potential–he needs space to mature as a player as well as a person. Perhaps I’m wrong and Mancini will give him what he needs, but from the start it seemed to me a venture that was doomed to failure. And perhaps I’m ignorant of Mancini’s ability to develop players, but his record as far as I know shows a manager who buys complete players rather than a manager who builds them. In the Dublin Super Cup against Inter, Balotelli demonstrated that he can have a great impact on a game, but he needs that space for growth on a more regular basis.

Balotelli’s failed backheel in Los Angeles is ultimately a symptom of the City way. Just imagine this talented and confused player, ahead in a friendly match; managed by a man who demands discipline, seriousness, and predictability; cheered and jeered by fans who demand success and spectacle. He must have seen the space in front of goal and thought something like, “Here is my chance. I can show that I’m a special player. I can show everyone what a crime it is that I don’t start every game.” Then perhaps at the last moment he thought, “It’s just a friendly though, I’ll be nonchalant about it.” But then the miss, the boos, the benching and recrimination, the distinctly teenager-and-narrow-minded-father-style confrontation with his manager. Yet how could one reasonably expect Mario Balotelli not to try something ridiculous in that situation?

IV

Panthers Prowling Eastlands

The captive footballer at Eastlands is an ambitious creature, hungry for glory, yet caught in a structure that demands a certain fealty to a cautious, restrictive ideal that the manager has cultivated, perhaps out of necessity, perhaps because there is too much money at stake. Mancini said of the Balotelli incident, “In football you always need to be professional, always serious and in this moment he wasn’t professional.” Manchester City have already had success and shown that they will be a power in the Premier League. But will the experience of watching them play be like watching a panther free to utilize its power or a panther in a cage?

The Panther
by Rainer Maria Rilke

[In the Jardin des Eastlands, Manchester]

His gaze from the passing of the bars
has grown so weary it holds nothing else.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars
and behind a thousand bars no world.

The smooth pace, over and over turning
in cramped circles of powerful soft strides,
is like a burning dance around a center
where a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly –. An image enters in,
rushes down the tensed hush of muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

Nart Varoqua (twitter.com/quavaro) and Can Turhan (twitter.com/phillieturk)

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