All it took was an emotional hug with his Mamma and Italian football star Mario Balotelli, won over an entire nation. After all, Italy is the nation of Mammone (mama-boys). Of course the two goals he scored against Germany in the semi-final of the EURO 2012 Cup didn’t hurt either.
Balotelli, as one Italian newspaper described him, is the “misunderstood genius” of Italian football. But now that he is hugging his Mamma everyone loves him. He’s a national hero.
Following the game, Balotelli made his way into the stands and embraced his mother Silvia. He later told reporters that he whispered in her ear, “those goals were for you.”
The emotional embrace came following Italy’s dramatic semi-final match in the EURO 2012 games in Poland. Balotelli scored his first goal with a header and followed that up with a second goal, a breakaway punctuated by a spectacular rocket to the upper right corner, guaranteeing a victory and Italy’s place in the final against Spain.
Balotelli surprised the crowd following his brilliant second goal when he whipped off his shirt and flexed his muscles in an “incredible hulk” gesture rather than running to hug his teammates. He got a yellow card for doing it. But no one in Italy was bothered by that. Italian papers described him as their “Post-Modern warrior” and a “Greco-Roman Statue”. To others he seemed to be saying, “I’m Italian and I’m black, take that.”
Knowing a bit about his life story makes it easier to understand some of Balotelli’s more reckless and volatile gestures and behavior.
Mario Balotelli was born in Palermo, Sicily in 1990, the son of Ghanain immigrants who left him in the hospital. He stayed there for two years with the hospital staff caring for him until he was eventually handed over to the Italian equivalent of the child protection services who gave him, at age three, to a foster family, the Balotelli’s. Silvia and Francesco Balotelli raised Mario along with their own three children and eventually adopted him.
As a football star Balotelli has put up with frequent, vicious racist attacks by Italian fans. When he was playing for Inter in Milan, Juventus fans hung a banner in the stadium saying “Black Italians don’t exist.”
Others have thrown bananas on the field when Balotelli was playing insinuating that he was a monkey.
Despite the attacks, Mario has not given up on Italy instead giving his country the gift of his incredible talent. In 2008 he declared “I am Italian, I feel Italian, I will always play with the Italian national team. I have never considered the possibility of playing with Ghana.”
Italians continue to tease him. Just this week the most widely read Italian sports newspaper, “Gazzetta Dello Sport” had to apologize for a cartoon it published depicting Balotelli as King Kong scaling the Empire State Building.
Following Thursday night’s game Balotelli’s emotional embrace with his teary white Mamma seemed like a Benetton advertisement with her pale white hand holding his head closely to her, her face cringing with emotion. He later told Italian television, “My Mama is not young and she came all the way here. The only thing I was hoping to do was to make her happy.”
During tonight’s final Italy-Spain everyone will be watching Italy’s Super Mario and I will be looking for his Super Mamma!