How much longer do we have to keep trotting out the same old tired alibis for Mario Balotelli’s failure to make the step up? We’ve heard it all before – he’s young, he’s inexperienced, he needs to settle down off the field before he can get his head together, he has to feel loved by club and Coach. None of this applies now. Mario is playing for Milan, the side he supported even when he wore the Inter jersey, and can learn a lot from Clarence Seedorf. He is a father now and appears to have found some stability with girlfriend Fanny Neguesha. Above all, Balotelli is 23 years old – only four months younger than Miralem Pjanic.
The Roma midfielder scored a sensational solo effort in the 2-0 victory over Milan, giving a performance that was the polar opposite of whatever half-hearted slop Balotelli put into the same match. Pjanic worked hard, showed skill, leadership and tactical intelligence to knit the midfield and forward line together. Balotelli wandered about aimlessly, pausing only to moan at the referee, at teammates, at his Coach and afterwards at Sky Sport Italia pundits.
That interview really was car crash television. You could tell it was not going to end well from the moment the pundits declared he was ‘not a top player’ and the image cut to Balotelli listening in ready to be interviewed, his face a picture of barely suppressed rage. Those toys weren’t going to stay in the pram for long...
Giancarlo Marocchi was cut down with a damning statement: “You don’t understand anything about football. Trust me, you really don’t.” It’s not as if Marocchi’s question had been unfair, he had simply asked if Balo thought he’d make a greater impact on the field if he moved more off the ball. It’s a criticism every fan and Coach has levelled at Mario, as we’ve all recognised those days when he visibly can’t be bothered.
Balotelli has played in Serie A and the Premier League for many years now, so you can’t realistically still say he’s inexperienced. He was born in 1990, the same year as Pjanic. Mario’s early years were tough, but Miralem’s family fled Bosnia just before the outbreak of war. Roma fans jeered Balo from start to finish in last night’s game, but insults aren’t always prompted by racism. Sometimes he gets jeered because he is quite simply an irritating character.
The World Cup is this summer and Italy need the best version of Balotelli. If the petulant man-child we saw at the Olimpico turns up, then he may as well just go sit on the beach with some ice cream and let the adults play. We’re through making excuses for him.