Tim Sansom pens his thoughts on the media’s obsession with Mario Balotelli.
When you meet someone for the first time, and you want to find out their age, you would do worse than to find out the game show that they remember being fronted by Bruce Forsyth. Bruce Forsyth’s Price is Right, Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Card Right, or Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game? Some people would remember Bruce Forsyth at the London Palladium on a Sunday night. It depends how old you are if you can link yourself with one of those iconic game shows where Bruce Forsyth was the front, centre and back of the stage.
There are very few showbiz stars that dominate their programmes. Whether it is Brucie, Delia, Noel, Cilla, or the late great Bob Monkhouse, all of their names would ensure that the viewers would tune in. There are a few players that dominate the football agenda just by their name. Whether it is Pele, Beckham, Shearer, Rooney, Gerrard, Rush, Dalglish, Hurst, or Charlton, all of their names would bring in the fans. People say that no player is bigger than the team, but you can be sure that some players are more box office than others for their football talents.
It is nearly seven years since I wrote my first piece for This Is Anfield. Fernando Torres was the showbiz name that was lighting up the club. We were still in the slip stream of Istanbul. You may remember that being from the Ipswich area, my club is the one that played its last Premiership match (to date) at Anfield in May 2002. 2007 was before the Roy Keane years. The years when the overall club seemed to play second fiddle to what Keane decided to rant about in his Friday press conferences. Everyone wondered who would be shouted at by Keane after another Ipswich Town defeat. Cameras seemed to be turned to the dugout than the pitch.
It was a difficult time to be a Town fan. For someone who wanted to go to a football match to watch the football, rather than dive into a football version of Brookside, life did not seem right. The results did not go the way for “Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town Football Club.” Temperatures rose on all sides. Divorce happened in 2011 and few on both sides shed tears. The next managers are well known to the vast majority of the football community- Paul Jewell and Mick McCarthy. There have been many ups and many depressing downs but the football has re-established itself as the main talking point.
I do appreciate that Liverpool Football Club is a bigger club than Ipswich. If seems that if someone merely sneezes in the Kop, that is a sign that Brendan Rogers’ manager reign is under threat, but I still like to think that the football does the talking at Anfield. However, you have had some baggage. After your Uruguayan bags have been taken off the airport carousel, some Italian suitcases have taken their place. If you believed everything that you read in the papers, you would believe that Mario Balotelli was the goal keeper, defence, midfield and attack of the team. No other player matters. What Brendan says is irrelevant.
Looking at Sundays coverage of the Hull game, I have the page open to see the title “Liverpool firing blanks” with a picture of Balotelli crouching with his head in his hands, looking winded with misery, contorted with his Liverpool kit hanging limply around his body. It seems that Balotelli Watch takes place every time Liverpool plays. He seems to be the Aunt Sally of everything that is wrong with Liverpool at the moment. The swapping of shirts at half time carried more media coverage after the Real Madrid game than the general limp performance. Discussions about the Reds’ defensive line seemed to be relegated to after-thought status compared to outraged phone ins about whether Balotelli’s swapping of polyester shirts represented the greatest shame on Liverpool Football Club of all time.
“This is not the Mario Balotelli show. He has a lot of work to do and the star of this team will always be the team.”
– Brendan Rodgers, August 2014
Balotelli is one of the players that catch the headlines of a very celebrity-obsessed football world. From wacky hairstyles right through to cars and domestic ‘incidents,’ the striker is the dream of the tabloid press. In a period when his football is not doing the talking, the media and certain parts of the footballing public are desperately wishing for Balotelli to emotionally collapse up in front of the baying football world. Any examination on why Liverpool’s current season is hesitatingly stuttering from week to week, without any sense of the assuredness of last year is just forgotten, or can wait for another day.
You might still like the big stars, the big names, and the players with reputations to play in Liverpool red. It guarantees coverage for the club, but I like to think of today’s Liverpool as a bigger team containing some of the most exciting British talent seen for a generation. I would like the football to do the talking. This club is bigger than just one player. ‘Liverpool Football Club.’ Not “Mario Balotelli’s Liverpool Football Club” or “Anfield with Mario.”