In world of football, the term l’enfant terrible (the terrible child, coined by the French) describes a footballer of immense talent who has proven himself to be either immature or just purely problematic. Some classic choices for this name include French striker Eric Cantona, Argentine Diego Maradona, and Italian Antonio Cassano. These men were seen as brilliant, even genius, but were all held back by their inappropriate on- and off-field actions. In today’s game, this term has been revived by rising young star Mario Balotelli, who is known for an attractive spot kick but has raised eyebrows for his flashy yet careless behavior.
“Super Mario” is a player of a rare class. At the age of 21, he possesses a impressive recipe of size at 6’2” to go with a concoction of technique and pace that has lead pundits to say the Afro-Italian striker has a chance to become one of the world’s best…if he would only grow up. Problematically, Balotelli displays a combination of hubris alongside questionable, ill-thought actions in his quest for attention. Since making his professional debut as a 17-year-old at Inter Milan, Balotelli caught the eye of the world not only with his amazing footwork but also with his on-field temper tantrums, his spats with Manager Jose Mourinho, and his choice to wear the jersey of city rival AC Milan on Italian television.
After burning many a bridge at Inter, in 2010 he moved on to Manchester City, reuniting with Manager Roberto Mancini, who gave him his start at Inter. Some critics thought that Mancini would be the father figure that Balotelli needed to calm him. This has come to no avail. In the past two years, Balotelli has had great moments, including several man-of-the-match performances against teams like Manchester United, which have somewhat been eclipsed by his constant presence in the headlines for training ground fights, ejections from games, and his off the pitch personality.
And for all of it, Mancini chose to forgive, until now. On Sunday, it appeared that Mancini had enough of his “footballing son,” after Balotelli received a red card following two challenges against Arsenal defender Bacany Sagna in a 1-0 loss for City, which has nearly taken the club out of the title race. The Manager noted that the club might try to sell him in the summer, a sign that Balotelli has burned another bridge. Although he has a chance to return to Inter Milan to play under another past coach, Balotelli is on the path to being a cautionary tale.
For all his talent, the only consistency that Mario has shown has been a flavorful attitude towards authority and a need for attention. For the “why always me” footballer, the time has come to learn maturity, so he doesn’t wind up playing in second division Spain with a career marred with controversy. Mario constantly describes himself as capable of being in the top five in the world, but like l’enfant terrible before him, talk only goes so far.