Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Wearing a hoodie and jeans, Mario Balotelli looked little different from the group of huddled youths gathered outside Inter’s Appiano Gentile training ground.
The only difference, apart from the lean and imposing frame, was the fact that he leapt into a sports car, which would not have been out of place in a Batman movie, and scattered the civvies to the four winds as he swept through the exit.
Welcome to another day in the hum-drum life of Italy’s newest bad-boy who only last Tuesday threw his shirt on the San Siro pitch not in celebration but in disgust before stomping off to the dressing room – this after his side had just downed Barcelona.
Inter owner Massimo Moratti called the act of petulance “public suicide” although the teenager’s reaction to a few well-placed boos and whistles could have led to an act of homicide if reports of Marco Materazzi’s forceful manhandling of the youngster are to be believed.
Balotelli has been in the limelight ever since breaking into the first team under Roberto Mancini at the age of 17 and controversy has never been far away from someone who has just about alienated everyone apart from AC Milan supporters, in equal measure.
However, the forced excuses for donning a Milan shirt – the team he supported as a child – and for flinging away the shirt of the club that pays his wages have a hollow ring now.
“Clear off, Balotelli” was the spray-painted-greeting on the fence of the training ground on Friday, which the club have yet to remove.
Jose Mourinho could have easily scrawled the ‘advice’ and most of the senior players would not miss him so in an attempt to calm any discord in the dressing room Massimo Moratti was forced to sit the seriously-flawed upstart down to impart a few home truths.
The upshot was that the surly teen would be better off watching Saturday’s game even further away from the pitch than his usual perch on the substitutes’ bench.
There is no doubt that all the lectures and moralising from above will fall on a deaf ear if the youngster feels an outsider.
There was certainly that idea of soap opera villain surrounding the cocksure young fella as he drifted off to his home town to watch Brescia in Serie B whilst his team-mates went about the routine business of defeating Atalanta in the more salubrious surroundings of the San Siro.
And all the grins and waves to a few selected friends at the Rigamonti stadium could not hide the fact that he will be a side-show in Inter’s main event come Wednesday just as he was against Chelsea.
However, Balotelli certainly has a long way to go to out-sin the original case of arrested development: Antonio Cassano
The Bari Bawler has gone from prodigious talent to massive irritant to comic purveyor of third-person one-liners such as “only puppets play for Italy and Cassano is no puppet.”
An outsized ego has overshadowed what he has actually achieved in the game: a destructive streak scuppered a stellar career at AS Roma, sweet talking a move to Real Madrid only led to a cake binge and most recently there has been the massively delusional belief that he would ever play in this summer’s World Cup.
For all his cockiness and strutting, at 27 he has never really turned it on against the top sides since returning to Italy – until Sunday evening that was.
As it is with those of volatile nature, redemption can usually be found in more benign surroundings and so it has proved for Cassano at Sampdoria where in the less challenging environment anything he does stands out.
And this proved to be the case when he provided the perfect outlet along with the equally-impressive Giampaolo Pazzini for his hard-working team-mates against his old club Roma - and in doing so all but ended the Giallorossi’s title hopes.
Fit and focused and with the ball at his feet, he stood up to some hefty challenges without a word of complain before delivering the killer cross from the left for Pazzini’s close-range header to cancel out Francesco Totti’s opener.
His endeavours ended in him cramping up but even off the pitch he had a say in the outcome as Claudio Ranieri sacrificed right-back Marco Cassetti for Luca Toni thus leaving a gaping hole from which substitute Daniele Mannini could sweep in a cross for Pazzini’s winner.
The heartfelt hug for Totti at the final whistle (above) demonstrated Cassano’s new-found maturity. It has been a long time arriving so let’s hope it doesn’t take Balotelli a decade or so to grow up.
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