After Mario Balotelli signed for Brescia, there will inevitably be talk about unfulfilled expectations. But Balotelli is answerable to nobody but himself: let’s just enjoy him…
Chris Rock once said that men are only as faithful as their options, a line which sprang to mind when Mario Balotelli announced over the weekend on Instagram that he was signing for Brescia. “Finally, I am coming home to MY CITY. Brescia, I’m here,” he said.
Of course, this jarred slightly with his comment a few months ago, just after signing for Marseille. “Italian football is too tactical and a bit boring,” he told Quelli che il Calcio at the time. “I didn’t really consider a return to Serie A over the past few months, but I can’t hide the fact that I would like to end my career at Brescia.”
A generous interpretation of that would be that he hopes to spend the next five, six, seven years in his home town, but it’s probably safe to assume that Balotelli thought he would have one or two more high profile offers to consider this summer. That expectation might have been emboldened after he scored eight goals in 12 appearances for Marseille, but that spell also provided an example of why people weren’t banging his door down: he will be banned for Brescia’s first four games after being sent off for an abysmal hack on Montpellier defender Daniel Congre in his final game in France.
In the end it seemed like Balotelli had a straight choice between Flamengo and Brescia and opted for the latter. At his unveiling on Monday, Balotelli said it was his late father’s dream for him to play for Brescia, and that his mother cried when he told her he might be coming home. It’s difficult for the heart not to be warmed by something like that.
Of course, while on the surface it seems like the sentimental option, nobody represented by Mino Raiola is going to make a decision entirely with his heart. Balotelli is here because these were his options, and because he wants to get into the Italian national team for the 2020 European Championships.
“Roberto Mancini is the Coach who knows me best,” Balotelli said, “but I don’t expect any favours. I want the national team but I have to earn it on the pitch by scoring lots of goals.” A few days before the move was confirmed, Mancini himself said: “Whether it will be a good solution does not depend on Brescia but on him…I love him, but for him I can’t do anything anymore.”
It’s inevitable that after this signing there will be much talk about an unfulfilled talent, about what might have been in a career that promised so much. Balotelli arrived in our collective conscious after making his debut aged 17 for Inter and scoring a remarkable brace against Juventus, soon anointed the next great talent of Italian football.
In the intervening years those expectations were not met, and everyone has probably already made up their minds about whose fault that is. Balotelli’s attitude has been questioned so many times that it’s tricky to ignore, but equally it’s impossible for most to fully appreciate the impact of the racism and myriad other struggles he has struggled against for his entire life.
It seems that you are more afraid of my failure than I am.
Ultimately though, Balotelli doesn’t owe anybody anything. Implicit in the suggestion that he has not lived up to his potential is a sense of entitlement, that Balotelli is a piece of public property whose purpose is to entertain us by living up to the expectations placed upon him. The suggestion that someone has not used their talent offends the collective football sensibility, perhaps borne from the idea that most of us would kill to have as much natural talent, but really it’s none of our business.
Why should Balotelli feel like he has to live up to what’s been expected of him since he was quite literally a child? When the world sees talent, it decides that talent must then achieve certain things, otherwise the possessor of that talent is deemed a failure. “It seems that you are more afraid of my failure than I am,” Balotelli said in his introductory press conference. “I have zero fear of failure. I’m fine, I’m serene. I’m home.”
Balotelli is responsible to nobody but himself. This is potentially a tremendously exciting signing in what is shaping up to be the most interesting Serie A season in years. It’s also, as James Horncastle pointed out on Tuesday’s edition of the Totally Football Show, the most exciting signing that Brescia have made since the days of Roberto Baggio and Pep Guardiola. Instead of expecting anything of Mario Balotelli, as the world has done for over a decade, let’s just enjoy that.
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