Hero or Villain? Mario Balotelli


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The Independent Online

It has been said for decades that goalkeepers are "crazy".

Crazy for throwing themselves at balls travelling at 100mph, crazy for antics such as Rene Higuita's "scorpion kick" clearance, crazy for having existential crises (see Camus, Albert). But how many of them have driven into a women's prison, just to have a look around? Or set off fireworks in their bathroom? Or given a tramp £1,000 after winning 25-large at a casino? Or been sent out by their mum to get an iron and an ironing board only to return with a trampoline, Scalextric, two Vespas and a table-tennis set?

None of them, that's how many. Because goalkeepers are not crazy. Mario Balotelli, on the other hand... The evidence certainly seems to be mounting up, to the extent that even stories about the Italian footballer paying for everyone at a petrol station, though apparently fictitious, are taken as truth without a second's thought.

After all, why wouldn't someone generous enough to give a grand to a tramp – or to give his time and money to causes from Médecins Sans Frontières to a children's refuge in the favelas of Salvador da Bahia in Brazil, a school in Sudan, and a rehabilitation school for handicapped children in Mantua – also give back to the people of his adopted city of Manchester, who so adore him and the goals that finally brought the Premiership title to the light-blue half of town?

In the words of the songsmith Noel Gallagher, who interviewed Balotelli for this newspaper's daily sister, "He's like all naturally talented people: he's not got a clue what he's doing."

Maybe not on the pitch, where he acts by instinct – missing the goal with a flamboyant backheel, say, when he could have tapped the ball in – but his heart is certainly in the right place. Not only with the aforementioned philanthropy, but also in the recent row over potential racism at Euro 2012, with his threat to walk off the pitch if he was subjected to any small-minded chanting. That he did not blow his top when a banana was aimed at him during the match against Croatia was further proof of growing maturity – although lurid details of his "interesting" personal life suggest he has not lost all the, um, elan of youth.

Mercurial in spirit, then, as well as in football boots. An exciting talent who's already lifted Euro 2012 with a sumptuous volleyed goal against Ireland.

Just one thing, Super Mario: would you mind giving it a rest tonight?