Euro 2012 Betting: Super Mario the man for Italy
I thought Italy were the bet to win Euro 2012 but I wasn't sure Balotelli should even have been on the plane
While Mario Balotelli's talent has never been in question, Jamie Pacheco watched with great frustration as he followed up genius with sheer stupidity during his first two years at Manchester City, but against Germany in Euro 2012 saw why people keep giving him a go.
For much of Mario Balotelli's first two years at Manchester City I wondered why they bothered. Bothered to pay a fortune for an unproven hot-headed youngster, bothered to match his astronomical wage demands, to put with all the baggage that came with the undoubted talent. I'd watch him score two brilliant goals then get sent off. Score a hat-trick then scowl and look as if he didn't want to be there. Make a top class defender look like a Sunday league no-hoper then go to a lap-dancing club the night before a big game. Or start a fire in his own house. Or throw darts at a youth team player. Or crash a press conference back at his old club Inter Milan. There was also something. I wondered if he was just unlucky, if it really was a case of "Why always me?". But then there was a part of me which wondered if he coveted all the attention, the way Joey Barton does. If he'd rather be in the papers for the wrong reasons than not at all.
I wondered if he was going to end up being a sad case of the footballer with all the ability who just threw it all away. Not in a Paul Gascoigne way. Gazza had a fine career at both club and international level and is regarded by many as one of England's best-ever players. He may not have achieved quite as much as he could have had it not been for 'that tackle' and a love of the booze and the good times. But he probably achieved about 85% of what he could have.
And I certainly don't mean it in a Ronaldinho way. Say what you like about his party lifestyle in his latter days at Barcelona but he'd won a World Cup, a Champions League, a Copa America, several La Liga titles and been voted the world's best player on two occasions and much more before his Barca paymasters had had enough. I'm talking about the guys who we've almost forgotten about. Francis Jeffers, Danny Cadamarteri, Jody Morris, you know who they are.
This was a troubled season for Balotelli and it probably had more lows than highs. But he did seem to score just about every time he played and made two crucial contributions as the title race went to the wire. That last-minute penalty at home to Spurs in a 3-2 win and in the most dramatic of circumstances, that fully-stretched leg that found Sergio Aguero who buried it in the dying seconds of the win against QPR.
But I still wasn't convinced.
I thought Italy were the bet to win Euro 2012 but I wasn't sure Balotelli should even have been on the plane. He'd started talking about walking out on the tournament if he heard racist chanting before he'd even got there. Then when it got under way he showed his displeasure at being subbed in an early game and had to be restrained by a team-mate when after scoring the goal that guaranteed Italy went into the quarter-finals, he wanted to have a go at his manager for not starting him in that match..
He had a good game against England. He worked hard, he had a few decent attempts at goal, he had the guts to step up and take the first penalty and he made no mistake.
And then in the semi-final against Germany I really saw why they do it.
Why managers put up with it all.
Why they persist with him and show the patience of Job.
He was superb. Quite why he didn't get the man-of-the-match award I'll never know (I'm Andrea Pirlo's biggest fan but I'm with you on this one, Mario) because he took the knocks without complaining, he led the line, threw his weight around and scored two super goals. The first a good header from close range, the second a masterclass in movement, control and finishing. Of course there was a little bit of the other side of Balotelli, ripping off his shirt and getting booked in the process. But we'll allow him that one as it had no further repercussions. And at the end of the match there was a tribute to his adopted mother who was watching from the stands and a message along the lines of "no hard feelings" for his manager after being substituted. This after he'd kicked and headed every ball from the subs' bench after being replaced by Toto Di Natale on 69 minutes. He did care about football after all.
This could yet be Balotelli's Euros. If Italy win, it will be a coin toss between him and Pirlo as to who is named player of the tournament. Yet it says it all about the man that he's a shorter price at (2.3) to be shown a card than he is at (3.8) to score a goal and that both bets make serious appeal.
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