Mario Balotelli is backing firework safety as England’s Guy Fawkes day – November 5 – draws near. If that sounds like a boring PR stunt, read on. Balotelli is no damp squib, he’s a raging bonfire of the vanities.
Manchester City’s madcap striker – the first African to play for Italy after he taken from his penniless Ghanaian parents aged two – is never boring. Just last Saturday night, BEFORE scoring twice in Sunday’s “Six in the City” Manchester derby win over United, Balotelli’s house was set alight when “a friend” let off fireworks in his luxury home.
Yesterday’s Manchester Evening News reports that Balotelli will NOT face legal action after the fire in plush Mottram St Andrew. A fire brigade spokesman said: "The blaze was investigated and as there didn’t appear to be any criminal intent, the matter was closed."
Then the controversial footballing icon came out in support of the “Treacle Fire Safety Drive For Bonfire Night”, saying: "Fireworks are dangerous. I didn't set any fireworks off, it was a friend of mine. I didn't know anything about it until I heard the shouting coming from the bathroom.
"Luckily, nobody was injured, and my friend apologised to me for the damage to my house. It was a really stupid thing for him to do... and I was really, really angry with him about it. Be careful out there on November 5.”
And all these burning issues had to be addressed before Sunday’s cracker when he was booked following his first rocket in the 6-1 win over United when he stripped off his light blue shirt to reveal the legend: “Why Always Me?” on a carefully printed undershirt. He left the ground afterwards high-fiving city fans from his convertible Bentley, worth an estimated £250,000 (R3m). But more about those cars later.
City travelled to Wolves for a Carling Cup clash expected to produce further fireworks last night, but Balotelli may be rested for the clash. The £120,000-a-week star is currently staying in a 5-star Manchester hotel while his simmering house is repaired, at a cost of around R5m.
Before the Manchester derby, Balotelli reassured anxious City fans: "The real Mario is coming now and it isn't the same Mario as last year. This year it's going to be better, I hope. It has to be better.
“ Last year, because of my injury, I couldn't play at the top but I train good now and I feel good and that's how it should be always. I'm getting better all the time.”
Showing remarkable prescience before scoring his sixth goal in five games, he added: “It's four goals in four games now and I hope to God it will be five goals from five after Manchester United on Sunday.
"I’ll try to stay at home more. Maybe I'll stay in with my family, my brother or girlfriend.
"They weren't here last year. That's definitely helped. I am also growing up."
Growing up? Aw, come on! Balotelli is still capable of just about anything – and in a world of boring platitudes, the man stands out like Joey Barton and Herschelle Gibbs as a personality who spices up our sporting lives.
Still just 21, few doubted Roberto Mancini’s foresight when he swooped to lure the sulky striker from Inter Milan for £24m (R280m). After all, he was constantly barracked by his own fans at the San Siro, then-boss Jose Mourinho described him as “unmanageable” and a new start was just what he needed.
Italy holds grim memories. Balotelli’s Ghanaian parents, Thomas and Rose Barwuah, were forced to put young Mario in the care of Italians Francesco and Silvio Balotelli when he was just two.
Mario claims “they abandoned me”, but the Barwuahs insist their son had intestinal problems which needed expensive treatment, so they allowed him to be fostered by the rich Milano family – daddy Balotelli was a lawyer. The Barwuahs found themselves shunned by their son and unable to intervene as his behaviour grew increasingly more bizarre.
Things came to a head in June, 2010 when police officers in Milan found Balotelli and three friends in an Audi car with a gun, amid reports of gunfire. It turned out to be a toy cap gun. Not long afterwards, Balotelli was forced to apologise to Inter fans for appearing on TV in the shirt of hated rivals AC Milan.
And so off he went to join Sheik Mansour’s multi-billion revolution in Manchester a mere 14 months ago. It didn’t take long for the tall Ghanaian-Italian to make his mark, with his bizarre hairstyles and collection of expensive cars.
Mancini insisted he could tame the “wild child” but so far he has picked up £300,000 in club fines and been sent off twice.
Though he helped City win the FA Cup last May with a goal-happy Man of the Match performance, his highlights have to be contrasted with the low points: a Carrington training ground punch-up with fellow former Ghanian Jerome Boateng, another fight with captain Vincent Kompany and an infamous incident where he threw a dart at a youth team teenager.
In July, Mancini was seething again, when Balotelli attempted to back-heel a penalty against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy – and missed.
And then there are the cars. He has a collection, currently estimated at eight. So far he’s been fined over £10,000 for various offences and has had various motors impounded 27 times for parking in the wrong place.
He crashed his £120,000 Audi R8 sports car in Manchester last August and was then stopped by police who found £25,000 (R275,000) in cash in the glove compartment. Asked why he was carrying such sums, he replied simply: "Because I can". And all that after having his £150,000 Maserati ruined by a bagful of kippers left in the boot by his team-mates at the training ground.
And then there are the women. He arrived in England with Miss Italy finalist Melissa Castagnoli, then dated Sophie Reade, who shot to fame on the reality show Big Brother. He allegedly went off with her best friend before opting for his current squeeze, Italian actress Raffaella Fico.
With his five-finger hat, bizarre outfits and punk hairstyles, Mario is a tabloid dream for the celebrity hungry British press. And the quotes just keep on coming. When asked what he thought about Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshire, he replied: "What's his name? Wil... ? No, I just don't know him."
But Mancini keeps the faith. After the “Six in the City” derby triumph, he said: "I hope we arrive at the day when Mario has changed because, after this, he becomes one of the best three players in the world, like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo."
For a more balanced assessment – Mancini is currently consumed by his spat with striker Carlos Tevez - perhaps David Platt, the extremely well-behaved former Arsenal and England midfielder, is worth listening to. Now Mancini’s No2 at City, Platt reckons: "He will lose concentration but you can snap him back out of it. He is never down for a week — it is 10 seconds and then he is out of it. He is an enigma."
"I don't think Mario is a difficult player to manage. He is not someone who sulks. People saw his talent but they perhaps saw it in fleeting moments last season.
"His behaviour has always been good but there have been too many ups and downs in terms of his concentration levels. But they are there and have been for a good two to three months now."
And the “Why Always Me?” t-shirt? Here’s Balotelli’s take: "I did it for many reasons but I'll leave it for other people to figure out what it means. I'm sure people can work it out.
"Chappy, our kitman did it for me, I told him the words and he printed them. He is a good guy Chappy, one of the best!
"Will I do it again? No, because otherwise I'll get booked every week, so it was a one-off for United!"