“I was sort of a half-breed of colonization,” wrote famous Tunisian/Italian/Jewish cultural nihilist Albert Memmi, “understanding everyone because I belonged completely to no one.” This quote could just as easily be attached to Italy’s Mario Balotelli, a Ghanaian-Sicilian whose actions both on and off the field have given him the reputation of being a wildcard, to use a generous term (others may opt for something like “ticking time-bomb”).
Balotelli, like Memmi, in a sense belongs to no one—not even his Italian teammates. It’s not that he isn’t Italian (clearly he is), or that he’s in a class all his own (countryman Andrea Pirlo is playing just as well, if not better in this tournament), but rather that he inhabits a world all his own. That is, he lives in his own world.
Sometimes his own world is explosive. Sometimes it’s disruptive. Other times it’s a source of focus and motivation. But from the outside looking in, no matter what it’s always entertaining. That, apart from his technical skill, is what makes Balotelli not just fun to watch, but also easy to root for. Who didn’t see or read about the footage of him hugging his mom after the win against Germany and smile, if not outwardly, then at least deep down—in a kind of smile of the soul, if you will?
I have to admit that I was rooting for the Germans but couldn’t stop the smirk from crawling across my face as I witnessed Balotelli’s shirtless pose after his second goal. Many in this tournament could have scored such a goal, but nobody could have pulled off the celebration like Mario.
In a sense, he’s the anti-Spain. Spain is steady; he’s a roller coaster. Spain is methodical; he is brutal. Spain is infallible; he is deeply flawed. Spain is measured; he is probably certifiably insane. All of these characteristics add up to produce a relatable, compelling story. He is perhaps exactly what this tournament—and all tournaments—need.