EXCLUSIVE: How Mario battled racism - and team-mates - as a kid
Published 23:59 09/04/12 By Josh Layton and David Barnes
He tops the league when it comes to controversy but Manchester City bad boy striker Mario Balotelli hasn’t always been to blame for his battles on and off the pitch.
Aged five he was the only black child at his first club, and the racist parents of other players plotted to have him removed from the team, it has been revealed.
But Mario was already used to battling adversity after surviving a series of operations on his intestines as a baby.
The star, fostered by an Italian couple when he was three, faces
the boot from Man City after his red card in Sunday’s defeat at Arsenal was added to
his charge sheet.
Now accounts of his rebellious past have emerged that also detail the racism he encountered at USO Mompiano in the city of Brescia.
Ex-club president Mauro Tomolini said: “When he came here aged five, he was the only black child out of 250. The parents of the others looked at him differently.
“People asked us to get him out of the team.”
Mario had lived in a cramped flat near Brescia with his Ghanaian birth parents, Thomas and Rose Barwuah, before he was fostered by Francesco and Silvio Balotelli.
As he grew up he battled with fellow players and authority. Aged 11 he was signed by AC Lumezzane and refused to play under his surname of Barwuah.
Coach Giovanni Valenti said: “We had to make alterations on the team sheet and ask the stadium announcer not to call him Barwuah, but Balotelli. If he refused, we had to beg him to use just his first name. Otherwise, Mario wouldn’t play.”
Team-mate Marco Pedretti said: “We used to fight in the dressing room. I threw him against a radiator once because he had hidden my clothes and I was stood there in my underpants like an idiot.
“I hadn’t seen him for a good while when he called me a few years ago from Inter Milan. It was his birthday and he asked me if I wanted to spend it with him. He never had many friends.”
Mario was 15 when he joined giants Inter and junior coach Vincenzo Esposito also recalled the lad’s rebellious streak.
Vincenzo told French football magazine So Foot: “The day before an important match we stressed to the players the importance of good preparation. Mario went straight off, bought a huge ice-cream and licked it before my very eyes.”
Since arriving in Britain in 2010, Balotelli, 21 – whose brother Enoch, 19, is also a footballer – has often been in trouble. There have been car crashes, indoor fireworks, dangerous dart throwing, red cards and bust-ups with team-mates.Manager Roberto Mancini said if they’d been team-mates he may have hit him.
Balotelli has also admitted cheating on his girlfriend by sleeping with a vice-girl at his £3million Cheshire mansion.
After scoring against Man United in October, the £120,000-a-week striker revealed a T-shirt asking “why always me?”. Perhaps the star’s troubled upbringing goes someway toward answering that question.
Balotelli’s troubles on and off the pitch might be shocking the footballing world – but clubs shouldn’t give up on him yet, writes Andy Barton of The Sporting Mind clinic.
Our upbringing shapes our values, our beliefs and culture. The Man City star had a tough upbringing in Italy and is trying to detach from a lot of the problems he faces by being rebellious. It’s easier to be a rebel when you feel you don’t fit in as it boosts your self-worth.
However, he is still young and our brains are not yet fully developed in our early 20s. Wayne Rooney is proof that players do mature.
As well as the expectations of him, he is in another society with another culture and language. Players are meant to be superhuman but they’re just as normal as the rest of us.