At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Mario Balotelli - footballer

Volatile star of Milan clubs and Manchester City


Mario Balotelli in action for Italy's national team
Mario Balotelli in action for Italy's national team
Controversial footballer Mario Balotelli, who has played for both major Milan clubs in Serie A and for Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League in England, was born on this day in 1990 in Palermo.

He currently plays in Ligue 1 in France for Nice, who finished third behind Monaco and Paris St Germain in the 2016-17 season, helped by 15 goals from the Italian international Balotelli.

Balotelli scored 20 goals in 54 Premier League matches for Manchester City and made the pass from which Sergio Aguero scored City’s dramatic late winning goal against Queen’s Park Rangers on the last day of the 2011-12 season, which gave City the title for the first time since 1968.

He had a difficult relationship with City manager Roberto Mancini, with whom he first worked at Internazionale in Milan, and with Mancini’s successor in charge of the nerazzurri, Jose Mourinho.  His volatile temperament has also brought him more red and yellow cards than he and his managers would have liked.

Yet he still won three Serie A winner’s medals with Inter in addition to his English title and won the Coppa Italia with Inter and the FA Cup with Manchester City.

Balotelli is also a Champions League winner, having been part of the Inter squad in 2009-10, when Diego Milito’s two goals beat Bayern Munich in the final in Madrid.

Balotelli was a sensation in his  early days at Internazionale
Balotelli was a sensation in his
early days at Internazionale
The son of Ghanaian immigrants, Balotelli was born Mario Barwuah.  His parents had little money and after the family moved to Bagnolo Mella, a municipality near Brescia, in northern Italy, when he was two, they placed Mario in foster care.  He was a sickly child with intestinal problems and they felt he would do better in a family that could give him a modern home and good food.

He was taken in by Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, a white couple from the town of Concesio, in pretty countryside in the Val Trompia to the north of Brescia. 

Although bureaucratic obstacles prevented the Balotellis from ever adopting Mario formally, they raised him as their own son, alongside their own children Giovanni, Corrado and Cristina, who made him feel part of the family.

Subsequently he came to regard Francesco and Silvia as his true parents and distanced himself from his blood family.  He insisted that without the Balotellis' love and support his football career would not have happened and when he scored twice for the Italian national team as they beat Germany 2-1 in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 in Warsaw his first instinct at the end of the match was to look for his adoptive family in the crowd.

A picture of him embracing Silvia appeared in newspapers round the world.

Much as he felt safe and loved by the Balotellis, he still regularly encountered racism as he grew up.  Although Italy accepts many immigrants, including refugees, from northern Africa, they form a tiny percentage of the population and tend to be more widely scattered than in some European countries.

Mario Balotelli lines up with the Italian national team at the finals of Euro 2012
Mario Balotelli lines up with the Italian national
team at the finals of Euro 2012
Thus, Balotelli’s skin colour made him stand out and many believe his sometimes erratic behaviour is a consequence of feeling he was not accepted as an ordinary Italian as he grew up. It did not help that he was not allowed to apply for Italian citizenship until he was 18.

His talent for football did help, but only up to a point. He encountered jealousy at school and when he made his debut at 15 years of age for Lumezzane, the Serie C club 20 minutes from his home where he took his first steps towards a professional career, he was subjected to racial abuse by a section of the crowd.

This continued after he joined Inter at the age of 16, with racist chants and monkey noises a particular problem in matches against the Turin club Juventus.

Nonetheless, his talent shone through.  He made his Inter debut aged 17 in a friendly in England in November 2007, scoring twice in a match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, to mark the 150th anniversary of Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest association football club. He also scored twice in his first competitive start, in a Coppa Italia match against Reggina on December 19.

Balotelli in his time at Liverpool
Balotelli in his time
at Liverpool
His first Serie A goal came in April the following year against Alalanta in Bergamo as Inter closed in on the 2007-08 Serie A title.

In all, Balotelli scored 20 goals in 59 Serie A appearances for Inter, 20 in 54 Premier League games for Manchester City and 26 in 43 top-flight matches for AC Milan, to whom City sold him in 2013 for €20 million, a move Mancini believed would be better for his career, allowing him to live closer to his family home.

The only fallow periods in his career came at Liverpool, for whom he scored only once in 16 Premier League matches, and in a second spell with AC Milan, on loan, which again yielded just one goal in 20 Serie A appearances.  But his goalscoring form has been restored since moving to France, where his 15 goals for Nice in his first season, following a free transfer from Liverpool, came in 23 Ligue 1 games, including two on his debut against Marseille.

At 18 years and 85 days, Balotelli was the youngest goalscorer in Champions League history when he found the net for Inter against against Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta in November 2008. His career tally of Champions League goals stands at eight, with 13 from 33 appearances for Italy, for whom he last played in the 2014 World Cup finals.

Balotelli has been an object of fascination for the media, from the glossy magazines for whom he has done fashion shoots to the tabloid newspapers in England, who reported many off-field incidents of unusual behaviour, some of the them true, others not.

Val Trompia is notable for spectacular scenery
Val Trompia is notable for spectacular scenery
Travel tip:

Concesio, where Balotelli grew up, is in the Val Trompia, historically a mining area due to its rich mineral deposits. The route between the valley and the city of Brescia has been called La Via del Ferro e delle Miniere - The Road of Iron and Mining - which takes visitors through a largely undiscovered area of forests, adventure parks and ski slopes with many restaurants featuring local cheeses, meats, game and river trout.

The dome of Brescia's Duomo Nuovo
The dome of Brescia's Duomo Nuovo
Travel tip:

Likewise, the city of Brescia tends not to attract many tourists, partly because Bergamo, Verona and the lakes are nearby.  Yet its history goes back to Roman times and there are many notable attractions, including two cathedrals – the Duomo Vecchio and its younger neighbour, the Duomo Nuovo – and the pretty Piazza della Loggia, with a Renaissance palace, the Palazzo della Loggia, which is the town’s municipal centre. 





  

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