James Lawton: A Princely act by Boateng, but only the rulers can silence racists

Boateng would not dance any longer to the hateful sounds made by numbskulls

Click to follow
The Independent Football

In the ramshackle little stadium an hour's drive from Milan, Kevin-Prince Boateng did it for every black sportsman who ever sniffed the stale waft of racism. With workaday professional skill, the 25-year-old son of a German mother and a Ghanaian father lofted the ball into the middle of his tormentors and led the players of both teams and the match officials off the field.

He reminded us of the old truth that sometimes a picture is worth at least a thousand words, not to mention a million platitudes and any number of indignant tweets.

However, if the disruption of Milan's warm-up game against an amateur team at the end of Italy's midwinter break sent a powerful message to all those football administrators who continue to apply no more than lip service to the issue, it didn't so much solve a problem as pose a question.

If Boateng's action caused considerable worldwide reaction, how much greater would it have been had it come somewhere like San Siro or before the volatile terraces of the Olympic Stadium in Rome or some of the more fetid enclaves of bigotry in eastern Europe or, come to think of it, England or Scotland?

It would surely have put the ruling authorities, from Michel Platini's feeble-minded Uefa down, and their television paymasters, on a red alert for action which would do more than create a passing chill.

What we would have had was not a shot across the bows of complacency but a direct hit in that point of the football anatomy which is guaranteed to hurt more than any other, the hip pocket.

Boateng grasped his power to say it was his show and one whose appropriate conditions he would determine for himself.

He would not dance any longer to the hateful sounds made by a bunch of numbskull, recreational fascists. He would exert his right to a degree of respect. Naturally, the big noises in Italian football and further afield voiced their approval. They said it was a clarion call for a new age of decent values. Of course they did. Boateng's gesture was beyond rebuttal, but only as far as it went. The hard truth was that it wasn't so very far.

It didn't address the central problem in the battle against racism. This is the one that builds around the fact that it is generals and politicians who win and lose wars, not foot soldiers, even if they have the cachet of stars like Boateng.

If Boateng had drawn the curtain down not on such non-entities as little Pro Patria, but some heaving joust with Juve or Napoli, then we might now be looking with some certainty at the prospect of a dramatic change in the weight of fines that have been so paltry they shame football across Europe.

As it is, Boateng has issued a significant threat, not just of uncomplicated outrage by black players, but situations which would create incentives for all kinds of connivance in the abandonment of vital matches in which one side had taken what looked like an impregnable advantage.

Such, anyway, is the potential for anarchy and if it should happen no one can reproach the author of this week's stinging protest. Boateng has simply reacted to the appalling hypocrisies of football administration, and it is from here that the solution must come.

As we await the outcome, we can only marvel at the courage displayed by the American medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico Olympics of 1968. In the moments before they raised their fists in protest against racism in America, they discussed the possibility that shots would be fired at the podium. There was an echo of this when the black cricketer Henry Olonga joined his white team-mate Andy Flower in the famous armband protest against the death of democracy in Zimbabwe.

The nation's Propaganda Minister sneered that Olonga was an Uncle Tom who had black skin and a white mask. Olonga's response was both dignified and brave. He said: "If guys want to take me out, they can. They know where I live."

There were few white Americans ready to defend the actions of Smith and Carlos, though one exception was the president of their alma mater, San Jose State University, who declared: "They are honourable young men dedicated to the cause of justice for black people in our society." This was hardly the view of the US Olympic Committee which, with near ultimate irony, sent in Jesse Owens, the hero of Hitler's 1936 Olympics, to deter more black Olympians from making gestures of protest.

Owens later retracted his message, which said: "The black fist is a meaningless symbol. When you open it you have nothing but fingers, weak empty fingers. The only time the black fist has significance is when there is money inside. That is where the power lies."

There was a certain truth in this, of course, and maybe it is one Kevin-Prince Boateng stumbled upon while expressing his rage.

How much better it is, when you think about it, to concentrate the mind of football by threatening its remorseless accumulation of vast and unprincipled wealth?

Busby could have taught best way to deal with Balotelli

Sir Alex Ferguson is never slow to exploit the embarrassments of a rival and yesterday he must have felt the latest Mario Balotelli disaster was Christmas and Hogmanay rolled into one.

While Roberto Mancini was making still another pitiful defence of a situation which strips both himself and his club of a little more credibility with each passing day, Ferguson made a small quip about having wolves in the trees around his own training camp as a deterrent to the camera men who this week captured so easily the latest City fiasco.

If the Balotelli story hadn't become such an unremitting joke, Ferguson might have made quite a number of more serious points.

One of them was that the tradition he inherited from Sir Matt Busby had come under the kind of threat imposed by Balotelli only once, and then it was from a player who possessed roughly five times the talent of the Italian. It was provided by George Best, whose downward cycle challenged the basis of the Busby regime more gravely than anything either side of the Munich tragedy.

Busby was haunted by the knowledge that the brilliance of Best had dragged him further than he would have wished from the principle that no one was bigger than the team.

The great manager once walked from his office at the old Cliff training ground to one of the pitches after seeing a passing incident involving a young player. Busby did not raise his arms in the manner of Mancini this week after Balotelli's lunge at a team-mate. He said simply, "This is not Manchester United." He then returned, a certain serenity restored.

It is a memory provoked by the acrobatics demanded of Mancini as he tries to explain time and again why he persists in the belief that Balotelli will one day make a serious contribution to City.

A former coach Jose Mourinho once delivered a damning verdict on Balotelli in his Internazionale days. The coach said he could not tolerate a young player so unwilling to put in the work levels accepted happily by men of vastly greater experience and achievement.

Even yesterday Mancini was disputing that assessment and it was not a pretty sight. It could never be that, not when a football man of considerable achievement moved uncomfortably close to the point of ridicule. He said he would give his protégé another 100 chances, which, it was necessary to fear, was roughly 99 more than he might be giving himself.