Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Conversation About: Mario Balotelli

Queuing up to get into a swanky bar the other night, shielding my chin from the bitter wind in the top of my coat, when some vagrant shuffles up to me...
            “Spare any chaaange?” he goes. I pretend I don’t see him. “Spare any chaaange?” he says again. Go away, I say in my head. “Sir. Spare any chaaange?” I reach into my pocket and my friend goes:
            “What are you doing? He’ll sod off in a minute.”
            “Thank you sir, oh thank you sir,” the vagrant cuts in and I have no option now other than to give him some money. I fish around in the coin section but there’s only a two pence piece. “Thank you sir thank you sir. It’s very cold out tonight sir.” He mumbles shuffling from foot to foot. I look at the three twenty pound notes in my wallet and then at the vagrant’s filthy grateful face. At that moment he starts talking about Manchester City’s maverick forward Mario Balotelli. “I think it’s madness all this talk of Mancini getting shot of the lad. Fair enough he’s got himself sent off in an important game but they were already losing and it was in the last minute.”
            “Yeah but he’d had a pretty poor game besides.”
            “Maybe so. But sell him? Why?” He looks at my wallet as though addressing the question to it. “If you look at his season he’s done more good than harm and surely less harm than Carlos Tevez. How can the blame for a team’s capitulation in the title race be placed solely at the foot of a player who has only started 14 of their 32 league games and has scored 13 goals in the process?”
            “Yeah but it’s his attitude, isn’t it? He winds fans up,” I say.
            “Imagine if every manager gave up on talented players with bad attitudes. There’d be a huge scrapheap of them over history. And who cares if he winds the fans up? I’m of the opinion that if you stick with him, he’ll eventually repay the loyalty.” The vagrant’s eye twitches in the direction of a group of girls huddled together passing behind him.
            “But Mancini has had enough, hasn’t he?”
            “He hadn’t had enough when he scored two goals at Old Trafford last autumn. I mean, for heaven’s sake, lets have a bit of consistency shall we? Last October David Platt said that he wasn’t a difficult player to manage and that he never sulks. Around the same time Mancini himself said he was world class and that he could be considered one of the world’s best five players. Now all of a sudden City have blown the title and all the talk is about how Balotelli is a liability.”
            “Scapegoat.” I say.
            “Exactly. Mancini has a track record of saying stuff before he’s thought it through, just look at the way he dealt with Tevez’s tantrum, then went back on his word. He’s the one who has been the liability if you ask me. Did you see Wenger say he was gonna get rid of Patrick Vieira that time he got sent off in consecutive matches? Did you heck. Did Ferguson do anything other than support Cantona after he leathered that Palace fan?”
            “Yeah you’re right.” I say slipping my hands in my pockets to mask the fact that I put my wallet away.
            “And what do Wenger and Ferguson have that Mancini doesn’t?” The vagrant asks.
            “That sounds like the beginning of a joke.”
            “Premier League titles you dummy.” He mimes knocking on my head with his knuckles. “Vieira went on to captain ‘The Invincibles’ and Cantona went on to win two more titles and an FA Cup.”
            “They’re saying ‘one in one out’ now,” my mate leans over to say. “We might be in this cold for a while yet.”
            “So if you were Mancini what would you do?” I ask the vagrant, ignoring my mate.
            “Well, I’d stop doing post match interviews for a start, media outlets be damned. He just can’t stop saying things he doesn’t mean in the heat of the moment. If he’s the same with his wife, Federica, I feel for the woman. ‘Sorry love I didn’t mean to call you a whore who’d never play for us again, it was the heat of the moment.’ And I’d keep Balotelli, because there’s a major player in there somewhere that just needs time and patience to be drawn out. And quite apart from the impertinent argument that, oh he’s a character and we need more characters in the game, we don’t need more characters, we need more good players to watch. The boy has a lot to offer City. Supposedly he’s popular in the City dressing room, so imagine what a boost to morale it would be for all the other players involved in the ‘project’ to see him return for pre-season training.”
            “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” I say.
            “Aye very true. You’d think Mancini would have a better grasp of his Italian history wouldn’t you? Or perhaps history doesn’t enter into it when it weakens your argument; this is a man after all, who as a 19 year old at Sampdoria started a training ground fight with the then 29 year old Trevor Francis because his place in the team was under threat. Imagine if his manager at the time had given up on him too.” A poignant silence descends upon us. My mate and I near the front of the queue. The bouncer leans over the couple in front of us and says:
            “Just you two lads yeah?”
            “Yeah just two of us.”
            “Sorry no groups of lads allowed.”
            “But we’re not a group,” my mate protests. “Two isn’t a group! We’re not trouble makers. Ah come on, we’ve queued up for ages.” The bouncer unbuckles the velvet rope, ushers us out of the queue and onto the street. My mate and I cross the road and queue up outside another bar.

I look around for the vagrant, but he’s vanished and I know then that the conversation is over.

Written by Andrew Hatch


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