Mario Balotelli: Liverpool striker's backstory suggests he be given benefit of the doubt

It is depressing that Balotelli retransmits messages such as this and Liverpool should fine the striker two weeks’ wages... but that should be that

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The Independent Online

The PR firm representing the solicitors who reckon they have got some more dirt to dish on Mario Balotelli will have to forgive me for not ringing the number at the bottom of the press release.

Balotelli has, apparently, breached Nintendo’s copyright by retweeting the message which includes an anti-Semitic stereotype, they breathlessly reveal. Thanks all the same, but we can live without that particular piece of tedium.

This is how it has become with football. Someone scents blood and everyone wants a share – especially if the story is as perfectly formed as this one, rolling the words, race storm, Mario Balotelli and Twitter into one package.

Disgust is expressed; the Football Association demands an explanation by 6pm on Friday; a disciplinary panel prepares to convene; and at Liverpool, heads are held in hands. The club, after all, have worked hard to promote diversity after the Luis Suarez affair, last year appointing a social inclusion officer and even issuing staff with a list of language not acceptable for use.

Balotelli retweeted – and quickly deleted – an image on his Instagram page depicting the computer game character Super Mario alongside a racial stereotype and anti-Semitic remark: “Jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew.” The affront felt is understandable as an old line in prejudice is peddled again, so soon after Wigan Athletic chairman Dave Whelan launched forth with his own. But insofar as we can  possibly calculate the workings of his wildly complex mind, do we really believe Balotelli intended something other than an ironic assault on discrimination when he re-transmitted that message?

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The backstory matters. The discrimination Balotelli experienced as a player at Internazionale was overt – the club were ordered to play a match behind closed doors a few years ago, such was the racist abuse – but it was the fact he was an adopted black child of middle-class white Italians, that made him feel invisible.

“Two things were close to my heart, like all boys at a certain age: girls and getting attention,” he reflected in one of the few serious interviews he has granted in Italy. “But it was like I was transparent. I’m no [George] Clooney but I couldn’t explain it why I was ignored. My friends explained. They told me people didn’t like blacks.”

He sought out Lilian Thuram, another black player with experience of Italy, as a source of strength against prejudice. The authorities took notice when Thuram spoke out against discrimination, but they did not seem quite so scandalised when Spanish fans at Euro 2012 subjected Balotelli to such abuse that he threatened to walk off the pitch. Michel Platini said that the striker would be booked if he carried out such a threat. “I would have expected a different reaction,” his agent, Mino Raiola, told me at the time. “He has had this problem before, and in Italy we have a saying: ‘racism is ignorance’.”

It is depressing that Balotelli, whose folly knows no bounds, retransmits messages such as this. It is almost as depressing that he follows the foul and casually misogynistic Lad Bible, who pinched it and put it out as their own creation. But the real racism scandal – the one that no one was talking about on Tuesday– is how, four years to the day since Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup, the authorities there have no compunctions about the abuse of black players.

Liverpool should fine Balotelli two weeks’ wages for a breach of their social-media rules, and know that the gamble they took in signing him has failed. The FA should call off its disciplinary panel and put the time, effort and money it saves towards running a game which needs every penny. And the PR people should get a life.

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