BALOTELLI

NEXT: Arjen Robben                  PREVIOUS: Landon Donovan 

Italian striker, Mario Balotelli, once said his hero was Mike Tyson. Tyson, the man who destroyed opponents with overwhelming speed and fury. A guy who had an aura that could shake you, who, by design, had no regard for his fellow competitor.  

 

Balotelli has tried to do the same thing. Look at him when he played for Manchester City. He just plain ran through guys. He didn’t respect anybody. He lunged for balls as if nobody was there. It wasn’t out of carelessness, it wasn’t for lack of ability. He wanted to show his opponents that they were nothing to him, that they didn’t matter. 

After winning the Golden Boy Trophy, an award given to Europe's top player under the age of 21, Balotelli's quote in regards to fellow nominee, Jack Wilshire, was, "Jack who? Will? No, I don't know him." 

 

This strategy, the constant disregard, can influence an outcome on the field, but it’s called bullying. It’s not playing the game, and when it becomes physical, no professional league is going to allow it.

 

Players cost too much. 

Owners, league officials, they don’t want to see legs they’ve paid millions of dollars for get whacked. 

In the modern game, speed and force can no longer come in a tackle. They have to come in an attack.

 

What does that mean for Balotelli? He's back in England. Back where he was carded and banned. What is he going to do? He can soften his game, not run as hard as he used to, look lethargic. Allow his critics the last word. Or he can channel that fury, that speed, wrestle it down and turn it good, then use it, because it's friggen' TNT.

 

He's done it before.

Once in a semifinal. 

The European Championship, in Warsaw, playing against the Germans. 

   

*

 

The 35th minute, Italy 1, Germany 0: Italian goalkeeper, Gigi Buffon, knocks an incoming cross away with his fist. Midfielder, Riccardo Montolivo, collects the loose ball and runs it back at the Germans. 

 

Balotelli stands poised on the Germans' last man, looking back at Montolivo, ready to run.

He drifts away from his marker.

  

Montolivo knocks a 25-yarder that fades over the last German's head, but the pass is coming in short.

That perfection of two paths meeting, in stride, isn't there. 

 

Balotelli has to wait. His eyes flick off the ball. 

 

The Germans are catching up.

It’s Philipp Lahm, the German captain, barreling down on him, running like he's being chased. 

 

Balotelli lets the ball bounce. He knocks it ahead, to his right side.

He runs after it.  

It’s just that one touch. 

He’s a two strides for your one kind of runner, so he can take a big touch, beat you to it, then he fires.

He can do that from distance.  

 

This time it’s from the top of the penalty box. 

He gets his paces right, adjusts to the bounce of the ball.

Lahm is on his shoulder, his left side. He doesn't matter. 

Balotelli strikes.

The ball hisses, rises the whole time.

Its course is the goal's top right corner.

 

Manuel Neuer, the German goalkeeper, just watches.

He drops to his knees.

He doesn’t even raise a hand to it. 

Why put your hand up for a bullet?

 

That shot, that's your speed.

 

Here's your fury:

Please reload