It was a classic own goal.
Having successfully offloaded serial biter Luis Suarez in July after he took a chunk out of Italy’s Giorgio Cheillini during the World Cup, the powers that be at Liverpool Football Club could look forward to some relative peace and quiet.
All they had to do was hire a less controversial charge. Which, given the benchmark set by soccer’s Vlad the Impaler, shouldn’t have been hard.
Money was no object. After the Suarez trade-in, they had £75 million in the coffers. They could afford anyone short of J.Lo.
So, what did they do? They picked someone equally high maintenance. They jumped from the frypan into Dante’s inferno, forking out £16 million for Mario Balotelli.
One look at the hairdo should have sounded the alarm bells. This guy can’t help but attract a headline.
Like the time he set his house on fire letting off fireworks with some mates in the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom. Apparently the bath towels caught fire. And cue Talking Heads.
Or the time he threw darts at a Manchester City youth team because he was bored.
And the time he was asked by police why he had £5,000 sitting on the front seat of the car he’d just crashed and replied: “Because I am rich.”
On and off the field, Super Mario, as he’s dubbed himself, has driven his managers to distraction. Jose Mourinho and Fabio Capelli have both declared him unmanageable. Roberto Mancini wasted no time getting him off the field after an epic back-heel fail against LA Galaxy when he could have passed the ball to a teammate for a certain goal.
Lack of discipline is a constant of Mario’s career. Despite the six-pack, he’s not exactly enthusiastic in the training department. He’s frequently injured. He’s no stranger to red cards. He breaks curfew. He’s not averse to a bit of teammate fisticuffs. Basically, he’s a law unto himself.
Mario seems perplexed by the attention he gets, because “I am focussed on my football, my teammates and my manager, girlfriends and my family.” That’s right. Girlfriends. Plural.
So the writing was on the wall. But Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers didn’t read it. “This transfer represents outstanding value for the club,” he said on Mario’s signing. “I think we have done a really smart piece of business here.”
Four months in and Rodgers is busy wiping the egg from his face. Not only has Mario scored no Premier League goals but he’s now involved in a racism controversy after reposting a picture on Instagram of his animated namesake.
It came with the words: “Don’t be racist. Be like Mario! He’s an Italian plumber created by Japanese people, who speaks English and looks like a Mexican.” And the added words: “Jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew.”
Throughout his career, Mario has been subjected to some hideous racial abuse, particularly when playing in Italy. So this was a surprising misstep, even for him.
For his part, he says he was trying to attack racial stereotyping. By repeating the racial stereotyping.
“The post was meant to be anti-racist with humor,” he tweeted. “Not all Mexicans have a moustache, not all black people jump high, and not all Jewish people love money.”
At any rate, he now faces discipline from the Football Association, while Liverpool boffins are wondering what schmuck — sorry, club — will relieve them of their errant star.