That’s why it’s always him – high time Balotelli repays Prandelli’s faith in him
Instead, the naivety within him only grew like a new-born giving birth to controversies after controversies much to the dismay of his manager and fans alike. He fought with his teammates over a free-kick, entered a school randomly to use the washroom, bragged about being rich and even invaded newly appointed Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni’s unveiling press conference.
But all hell broke loose, when he first stamped on Scott Parker and later victimized Alex Song with another ferocious tackle, which eventually resulted in a nine game suspension being condensed down to just three. While Mancini like a broken record declared again for the umpteenth time that he was sick of his conduct and wanted him out next season, it was national team coach, Cesare Prandelli, who administered the coup de grâce, when he announced that he was considering leaving him out for the European Championships following repeated incidents of bad conduct.
Prandelli took the risk…
What followed was a string of apologies, both from the player and his agent, trying to save his career at Manchester City and with the national team. It was of course not taken seriously by anyone, as knowing him, people expected him to get back to his wild ways, once his suspension was over. What followed instead was something that surprised everyone. The world finally saw the other side to Balotelli, where he respected everything from being left out on the bench to not playing at all.
It seemed like what Mancini couldn’t achieve in over one and a half years with him, Prandelli did with very little but a warning that he could miss out on that one opportunity he had, to show that like every Italian his ultimate dream was to don the national colors. Axed he wasn’t, and there he was with the national team in Poland, as the only genuine target man of an Italian attack, that had so cruelly been mugged of a focal point following his predecessor Giuseppe Rossi’s injury. Prandelli has ever since, showed tremendous faith in the Ghana born striker, and his performance against Russia in the friendly defeat prior to the tournament was seen as one of the few bright spots in the Italian squad.
Shouldered with the responsibility of leading his country against Spain in his first ever major international competition, a lot was riding on him, but from the very moment he stepped onto to field, he cut the same old frustrated figure trying too hard to prove something to his detractors rather than playing for the team. From punching the ground in anger to committing needless fouls, Balotelli was doing everything he’s now so renowned for, but it was not until that crucial one on one against Casillas, did Prandelli understand that Balotelli was yet to realize the importance of wearing the famous blue colour of Italy.
Was that required?
Stealing the ball from Sergio Ramos and heading unmarked towards Iker Casillas, to everyone’s amazement, he allowed Ramos to sweep the ball off his feet and clear it out of play when he could have easily gotten it past the Spanish keeper or passed it to Antonio Cassano who was waiting on the other side unmarked and with a clear sight of goal. Had he followed the textbook move during the course of his lazy run towards the goal, he could have opened the scoring for Italy and made himself a hero, instead this act of coolness and his craving for showboating, made him the subject of jokes all around the world.
That, his replacement Antonio Di Natale, eventually clinched the opener within 10 minutes of his substitution only added to his woes, but Prandelli chose to show his faith on him starting him again against Croatia. Even here, he couldn’t capitalize on his opportunity wasting at least two good chances in the opening 20 minutes and with Italy on the brink of elimination; Prandelli was forced to drop him in favour of Di Natale against the Irish. It was a masterstroke again from the 54 year old, as when called upon for the final few minutes of the match, Balotelli finally opened his account in the tournament with one of the goals of the European Championships helping Italy land a comfortable victory and a passage to the next round. Finally repaying his coach’s faith, one would have expected him to show some gratitude to the man who had for so long supported him through thick and thin, but instead he allegedly tried to lash out at him for dropping him from the starting line up only to be manhandled and stopped by Leonardo Bonucci.
Brushing all differences aside, like the gentleman he is, Prandelli once again chose to start him against England on Sunday in what was supposed to be the most crucial match of both their careers hoping that the real Mario – so fondly known as ‘Super Mario’ – would turn up against a team he’s so familiar with, but what ensued was a flurry of disappointing finishes. In a match where the first goal would have proven to be crucial for either side, Balotelli kept missing sitters after sitters, forcing Antonio Cassano and the rest of the squad to try and take long shots at Joe Hart, instead of exercising the option of playing it on to him. Andrea Pirlo kept splitting the stubborn English defense with his razor sharp long balls only to watch in dismay and frustration as Balotelli tried too hard to sensationalize every shot he took at Joe Hart in an attempt to prove something to onlookers that he is more than just mere scandals and his off-field antics. Having been gifted with three glorious chances in the first half itself, Balotelli should have buried the match then and there; instead what followed was a further 75 minutes of agony for Italy as they tried in vain to get one past the English wall. That he was on the field to see out the whole of 120 minutes was only down to the fact that he was amongst the very few truly class penalty takers.
He might have shown no signs of concerns while stepping up to take the crucial first spot kick in the shootouts, and scoring it with tranquility, helping Italy exorcise their shootout demon, but one would hope that the England game has made him realize, it’s high time he starts putting himself before his team. His performances so far in the tournament have all indicated towards one thing and one thing only. Prandelli’s repeated vesting of faith in him, has led him to believe that he is an untouchable member of the squad, showing all signs of taking his coach for granted. But it’s time he realizes that the only reason he might still get the nod to start against Germany comes down to the fact that the Italians don’t really have an alternative to him, with an ageing Di Natale and an inexperienced Fabio Borini as his competitors and not because he’s earned it. If not in this tournament, his repeated failures with the national side will eventually force him out in the future with the inevitable emergence of promising young talents like Borini, Mattia Destro et all, coupled with the return of Giuseppe Rossi from injury.
It’s time he acts on his own statement ahead of the quarterfinal against England.
|“I think these two metaphors are for Mario the person, not Mario the footballer,” he told reporters. “I think I am a man.
“I could be Peter Pan – as in some of my behaviour I’m quite free, but I certainly feel more of a man than a Peter Pan.”
Yes, his club manager Roberto Mancini did come out in his defense and mentioned that the Manchester City forward was way better than Wayne Rooney of United. But Balotelli must understand that was more to highlight how in effective Rooney was in England’s system than Balotelli shining for the Azzurri.
Mario Balotelli really needs to see the bigger picture here and Thursday’s semi-finals against Germany might be the perfect stage to announce his arrival as the talisman of the national side. It might be his last chance to shine and convince Prandelli that he can trust him in the future and for that he really needs to realize that this is a real football tournament and not a showboating contest to garner unnecessary publicity, he so much pretends to hate.