For Italy's Balotelli, Racism On And Off The Field

The second biggest soccer tournament in the world — the Euro 2012 — wraps up Sunday in Kiev, Ukraine. One of the marquee names for the Italian side is Mario Balotelli. Born to parents from Ghana, Balotelli is constantly harassed by racist fans and sometimes by players on the field. Weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan speaks with Daniel Taylor of The Guardian about Balotelli's hot temper and how the taunts sometimes take their toll.

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This past week, a star was born.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Oh, Balotelli. Mario's moment to shine.

SULLIVAN: That was the call on ESPN of the heroics of 21-year-old Mario Balotelli. He scored both of Italy's goals in their win over Germany in the Euro 2012 soccer tournament. The Italians now advance to the final tomorrow.

Mario Balotelli's already quite famous in Italy and in England where he plays for Manchester City. His coach there thinks Balotelli could be one of the five best players in the world. He's even got his own pub chants.


SULLIVAN: We can't play you most of it. It turns out pub chants can get a little filthy. Now, Mario Balotelli is on the brink of becoming a star in this country with his bravissimo performance on Thursday.

DANIEL TAYLOR: It showed the good side of Balotelli because there is a very good side and there's also a very bad side.

SULLIVAN: That's Daniel Taylor. He reports on Balotelli's club team, Manchester City, for The Guardian newspaper. We'll get to that bad side he mentioned in a moment, but first to where it might have come from. Balotelli was born in Italy to immigrants from Ghana, but as a toddler, his parents gave him up, and he was turned over to a white foster family.

TAYLOR: He was the only black boy in a very white neighborhood, and, you know, he experienced a very sort of difficult childhood with a lot of prejudice and discrimination because of that.

SULLIVAN: That discrimination continued into his soccer career. Europe has long had a problem with racism toward black players, and Balotelli felt it even as a teenage when he made his professional debut.

TAYLOR: Should've been one of the proudest moments of his life and, you know, it turned into one of the worst because, you know, as soon as he came on, you know, he heard sort of the monkey noises.


SULLIVAN: What you're hearing is from a match in Portugal, and it's an example of what many black players face all over Europe. In response, Mario Balotelli often shows a well-documented temper. On the field...

TAYLOR: You know, he's been suspended, he's had red cards, he's stamped on someone's head.

SULLIVAN: ...and off the field. His behavior sometimes verges on the bizarre.

TAYLOR: Every other week, there's always another Balotelli story.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: TYT Sports. So Mario Balotelli in the news once again.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Mario Balotelli has escaped unharmed after setting his house on fire by letting off fireworks in his bathroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: He drove into a women's prison with his brother.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hours after it was revealed that Mario Balotelli had slept with the same prostitute as Wayne Rooney...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: He threw darts at the youth team from the first floor as a prank.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Reports are coming in that Balotelli has been involved in a car accident.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: He was seen at 2:45 a.m. leaving a strip club in Liverpool, which broke curfew.

TAYLOR: Do you have the phrase over there, the terrible twos, you know, for an infant?


SULLIVAN: Yes, you do.

TAYLOR: It's like he's sort of 21-year-old terrible two.

SULLIVAN: Sports writer Daniel Taylor says that even with all that talent, Balotelli's behavioral issues were almost too much for his team, Manchester City.

TAYLOR: They wanted to get rid of him because he was just too much trouble and, you know, they just couldn't trust him to play in the big games.

SULLIVAN: Taylor feels that Balotelli's performance this past week was encouraging, but he's not ready to say he'll have the staying power to ever be considered one of the bests in the game.

TAYLOR: Thursday was great; Sunday, who can say what will happen with him, you know? He could score a hat trick, or he could be sent off, or he might forget to turn up. You know, you just never know what's going to happen, to be honest.

SULLIVAN: The talented and enigmatic Mario Balotelli leads his Italian squad into the Euro 2012 final tomorrow against Spain.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Why always me? Why always me? Mario Balotelli.

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