Woe, woe, and thrice woe! What’s gone wrong with football? It’s in a right old mess. And it’s all Mario Balotelli’s fault, apparently. The furore from some quarters would have it that the Manchester City occasional striker is a disgrace to the game. But what’s the problem?
In case you haven’t seen it, football’s Public Enemy Number 1 is at it again. The perpetually stroppy tyro attempted to score and failed with a backheel in a pre-season friendly match against LA Galaxy. This apparently enraged his manager, Roberto Mancini, who promptly subbed him and then engaged in a touchline row with the player as he stalked off to the changing rooms.
Judging by some reactions this is an unmitigated day of shame for the sport and emblematic of how it has lost its way. The words ‘lost moral compass’ will no doubt crop up at some point. But hang on a second – let’s look at the context again. A pre-season friendly. Against LA Galaxy. A friendly; against LA Galaxy?
Of all the ironies. If anything Balotelli has done the game a service, exposing its ludicrous self importance and the mockery of the pre-season friendly freakshow. The game had very little to do with football. It was part of City’s brand building exercise in North America, played against a recently formed franchise that is currently playing host to David Beckham as he winds down his career. The whole laughable show can’t be taken seriously, let alone Balotelli’s antics.
Ah, but what about the fans who paid good money to see the game? Well to be blunt, more fool them if they took it at all seriously. Once upon a time, pre-season friendlies were viewed for what they are – lazy runouts in the fag end of summer, with a few fans turning up, perhaps to see a new signing for the first time but more likely to watch the teams go through the motions.
Nowadays pre-season friendlies are commercial enterprises, all about opening up new markets and ‘pushing the brand’. Soaked in sponsorship, fancied up with phoney tournament names and endlessly pored over with exhaustive television coverage, they are symbols of modern football’s bloated status and insatiable greed. In other words, it’s not really about the football. So why so much fuss about a piece of play entirely in keeping with the ridiculousness of it all?
Balotelli can frustrate, and may even be a bit of an idiot at times. I don’t know. I’ve never met him, so cant say what he is really like as an individual, But I know that one flippant back heel does not make him a pantomime villain some seem so keen to cast him as.