Jul 10


And he cried on the night – like most members of the Italian team defeated on 1 July 2012, by the Spanish team.
Indeed, the Spaniards were amazing. Four goals, each of which was crafted from possession football of the first order. Him-to-him-back-to-him-across-him-to-another-him-to-another-him and-back-to-him. Or, as the football journalists describe it, “tic-tac, tic-tac” football!
It went on relentlessly. Endlessly. Remorselessly. Tic-tac; tic-tack; tic-tac. And always getting closer to the Italians’ eighteen. Until the Italians would, out of sheer fatigue or  panic, fumble with the ball and lose possession. A quck steal, followed by a  fast break. then became possible and from it, another inch-perfect series of passes would ensue, and lo and behold, the ball would end up in the Italian net. It was just simply fascinating.
 And not at all surprising, if one was an addict of Spanish first division football and was used to the type of football played by the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, whose players (by the way) constituted the bulk of the Spanish national team.
I was watching with my son and his son – in other words, three generations of football lovers. I was behind  Italy all the way. I didn’t think that the form shown by Balotelli in the match against the “indomitable” Germans, could be anything but victorious against the Spaniards too. My son was a bit more scientific – he thought the Germans were only beaten because when they attacked, they left almost their entire half of the field deserted and undefended.
I argued against this: it was more  Balotelli’s genius than the Germans’ weakness, I contended. Balotelli used unusual craftmanship on both occasions — first  to utilise an aerial pass with his head  to punch home his first goal against the Germans, and then, much later,  to deliver the curling, long-range thunderous shot that kicked the Germans out of the tournament. My son was unimpressed — Balotelli was good, but  the Germans had asked for it.
When it comes to football, family loyalty runs out of the window! His son didn’t support either of us. He just supported the Spaniards. Indeed, he  shouted so hard when the Spaniards scored their first goal that his dad asked him whether he’d put money on the Spaniards! It was that sort of day.
Of course, it was I that came a cropper, in the end. The Italians, intimidated by the Spaniards,  mostly left Balotelli by himself in the Spaniards’ half, and could not afford to attach any permanent tacklers-cum-ball-fetchers to him, who could constantly feed him with the well-placed shots out of which one might enable him to work his magic.
We knew he could shoot to score. And he was in the right places – moving mostly in  the left side of the Spaniards’ half, where he thought they were more vulnerable. Sometimes, he worked  to the right, in pursuit of a perfect position from where he could receive a useful pass from his team-mates. But that ball, which he’d obtained often when he was playing against the Germans,  seldom came, now that the slippery Spaniards were the opponents..
It must have been frustrating to a soul-destroying degree for Balotelli to know that if he could only get the right ball, he could rescue Italy from the doom that was waiting in the wings; a four-goal-to-nil drubbing! What!? Italy? Yes: “when the one who will beat you hasn’t arrived, you say no-one can belt you.” 
Some say it was the beginning of the maturing of Mario Balotelli. “He will now think less of himself and more of his team, and thus become a better and more useful player”, they explain.
Maybe. Others think that in this spectacular failure, Italy has come face to face with its own ugly self. Italy is currently, one of the most racist spots in Europe and it would have been ironical — and probably unjust — if its salvation had come from a black person. You see, most self-respecting back people who live there complain that they are regularly mistaken for illegal immigrants who have been washed ashore from North African ports and are only alive because of the generosity of the Italian taxpayer. It doesn’t occur to the Italian racists that  as well as immigrants, both legal and illegal, there are embassies and other international organisations based in Rome that employ black people, whose countries and organisations pay enormous sums to Italian landlords to house their people. If you’re black, you’re an immigrant, and probably an illegal one at that — the Italian mentality seems to suggest.
Nothing illustrates the Italians’ attitude better than two examples of it that occurred regarding Balotelli, despite his magnificent feat in scoring two goals to defeat the Germans for Italy,  and before that, taking the lead bravely to defeat England during the penalty shoot-out that was the climax of the earlier game between the two countries. Instead of the praise that it would have heaped on Balotelli for his supreme achievement, had he been a white Italian, all the Italian sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, could throw in his direction of Balotelli was a nasty cartoon that depicted Balotelli as “King Kong”, the huge ape whose antics frightened us as kids when we saw the terrifying movie, King Kong. The cartoon can be seen here on the Internet:
Another widely-publicised image of Balotelli showed him photoshopped as an illegal immigrant picking cabbages on a farm! It was first spotted on the website of a racist Italian politician. The choice of metaphor by La Gazzetta dello Sport in particular was doubly nefarious because it is read by football lovers, and  European racist football fans have discovered a way of abusing black players that is most offensive: whenever a black player obtains the ball, the racists chant in unison: OOOOOO!…. OOOOO!,,,,OOOOO! This represents the noises made by groups of monkeys in the wild, and  indicates that “a monkey” has got hold of the ball.
Some of the fans also throw bananas at any black players who happen to come close to the touchline, near where the racists are sitting. European TV companies that televise football matches have an unwritten agreement not to show scenes of fans making monkey noises or throwing bananas, but the noises can be distinctly heard from the soundtrack. . But such behaviour goes on. Both the European Football Association (UAFA) and FIFA  adopt a nonchalant approach to such practices; for instance, whereas a player who showed a pair of underpants with an advert on it was fined about $100,000, the highest fine that’s been imposed against a club whose fans have engaged in racist behaviour is less than $50,000. Yet both organisations are supposed to be running a campaign under the theme: “KEEP RACISM OUT OF FOOTBALL!”. What about kicking the racists where it hurt most — by closing stadiums where racist chants are heard?
Indeed, so provocatively have racist European fans acted against Balotelli that just before Euro2012 started, he threatened that if anyone abused him in that manner, he would go into the crowd “and kill him.” Occasionally, he’s walked out of pitches when the abuse has become too much for him to bear. But instead of condemning the annoying behaviour against him, the European media constantly harp on his personal weaknesses – his explosive temperament, his frivolous spending and his propensity to crash his expensive motor-cars. Perhaps in making it impossible for Balotelli to save Italy’s honour on Sunday, 1 July 2012, the Fates were telling Italy something, namely, “Beware the Ire of Africa”!
As far as Ghana is concerned, Balotelli remains an enigma and a sign of how past neglect can come to haunt a people. The young man about whom the whole world has been talking  was born to Ghanaian immigrant parents, Mr and Mrs Barwuah, in Italy on 12 August 1990. The couple were not well off, and when early illness threatened the life of their young baby, they sought the assistance of Italy’s social services. The boy was helped to receive medical attention, but social services steered the couple towards placing him in foster care, and he went to live with Mr and Mrs Balotelli, whose name he adopted.
His football talent was spotted early in his life and there was time he could have become eligible to play for Ghana. (In Italy, a child cannot adopt Italian nationality until he is 18 years of age.) Had we had good talent scouts equipped with the personal diplomatic skills to woo a volatile adolescent who was about to choose his nationality, he might have agreed to choose Ghanaian nationality. Of course, he already felt “abandoned” by his natural parents, and it would most certainly have been difficult for him to choose a Ghana which he didn’t know much about. So the speculation about his future as a Ghanaian star must remain an idle  one and a fantasy at best. A feeble attempt was made by one of our Croatian coaches to interest him in the Black Stars, but it was badly handled and it became a fiasco. Poor Sulley Muntari was largely made to carry the can — as if any one person could influence a player who already thought of himself as one of the best in the world. 
In any case, he did a shrewd thing for himself, in choosing Italy. How could Ghana ever have provided him with the exposure to the wide world that playing for both Manchester City and Italy has afforded him? So we must be satisfied with the vicarious pleasure that we can take in his achievements. But that should be enough. After all, whatever happens to him, he can never get rid of his Ghanaian genes!  That is why football lovers the world over can only think of one word when Ghana is mentioned in connection with world soccer prowess: RESPECT!



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