Mario Balotelli and the sports stars who make a greater impact on headlines than the field of play
Thank God for Mario Balotelli. Without him, this window would’ve been so dull we wouldn’t have needed curtains.
Until Monday, the overall newsworthiness of January transfer stories had been lamentable. By-lines such as ‘Out-of-favour Aston Villa defender Alan Hutton on the verge of moving to Real Mallorca on initial loan deal’ seemed to take on vast editorial import.
Then along came Super Mario with his probable move back to Italy, hurtling to the rescue of the headline writers and etching his name in meteorites across an otherwise bleak night sky.
But not everyone in the media has greeted the news with the wonder and awe it clearly deserves. Speaking to talkSPORT, ex-England international Joe Royle said, “I’ve never understood what all the fuss is about. He’s got no work-rate. I’ve never seen a player walk as much as he does on the pitch. He doesn’t score enough goals and there are too many headlines off the pitch, what with the parking fines, fireworks and silly t-shirts.”
To those of us who – by accident of birth or some other misfortune – are Ipswich Town fans, the words of BFJ (the ‘B’ and the ‘J’ stand for ‘Big’ and ‘Joe’ respectively) will come as no surprise. Here is a man whose most emblematic player purchase while manager at Portman Road was, arguably, Kevin Horlock. A no-nonsense, hard-knocking, journeyman midfielder, Horlock came to represent a Town side of the mid-Noughties that favoured physical effectiveness over footballing aesthetics.
Balotelli’s goal-scoring record for City isn’t as woeful as Horlock’s was for Town (no goals in 58 appearances for the Northern Irishman). However, the oh-so-hard-done-by Italian has hardly set the world alight this term, netting just once in 11 league appearances. Even last season, during which his scoring stats were decent, my memory is of Balotelli as something of a passenger. And a surly, troublesome passenger at that, his sending-off against Arsenal in April being his fourth of the campaign.
“It would be no loss if he left,” Royle claimed.
That may be unjust. But it’s hard to escape the idea that Balotelli’s media persona is greater than his footballing achievements warrant.
Who else from the world of sport is all fur coat and no knickers?
Paul Nicholson ‘Bad Boy Of Darts’
Since its reinvention under the auspices of Sky TV, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) and Barry Hearn, darts has done a remarkable job of selling itself. The spectacle we see nowadays is a million miles from the fags-and-beer, back-room-of-a-boozer affair that first hit our screens in the 1970s. With light-shows, music-accompanied walk-ons, Vegas-style boxing announcements and packed, rowdy venues the country over, this is real showbiz. The standard of the sport has improved too, thanks in no small part to a certain Phil Taylor. More nine-darters, more 180s, more 100+ checkouts, and higher player averages than there ever were pre-1994 when Sky began its coverage. So there’s substance beneath the razzmatazz.
Where there was a distinct lack of substance, however, was in Paul Nicholson’s assertion that he was the ‘bad boy of darts.’ The naturalised Australian has frequently walked unsmiling onto stage wearing sunglasses; he’s fired imaginary pistols into the crowd; he often shushes and cups his ears at he inevitable booers. And he once imitated the antics of American wrestler CM Punk when he knelt on one knee during his walk-on and yelled, “It’s clobberin’ time!” before sitting cross-legged on stage as his opponent (only Taylor) entered.
These are not the actions of a bad boy. These are the actions of, well, a bit of a twerp.
Perhaps Nicholson’s most infamous display of supposed bad-boy-dom was his calling out of Taylor in 2011. Interviewed at the World Matchplay, he said, “Mr Taylor and me are gonna meet some time. And he’d better bring his A-game. ‘Cos if he doesn’t, I’m gonna put him to bed.” Really, Paul? Ovaltine and a Mister Man book with that threat at all?
Nicholson had in fact beaten Taylor at that year’s UK Open. Next time they met, though, Taylor ‘put him to bed’ by winning 10-6 having been 6-7 behind. After that, Taylor whitewashed Nicholson in the World Grand Prix. Hardly the effect the Newcastle-born thrower would’ve been after.
The fact remains that Paul Nicholson has not progressed beyond the quarter-finals of any major PDC event; neither has he competed in the Premier League. So if he needs evidence of how ‘bad’ he is, maybe his own performances are the place to start.
I was in a pub a while back and the name of Phillips Idowu came up. “Ah,” said one of the group who, admittedly is not one of the more fervent sports nuts I knock about with, “the one with the blue hair, yes? The long jump fella?”
Now, when your hair’s more famous than you (not to mention your chosen event), you have a problem. If Idowu had gone on to claim triple jump gold at last year’s London Games, he’d probably have the universal acclaim his talent merits. Instead, his preparation was hindered by a niggling injury, and the media reported a stand-off with Team GB’s head coach, Charles van Commenee, when the athlete chose to stay away from a pre-Games training camp. When it came to the event Idowu, clearly not 100% match-fit, failed to qualify for the final.
The perception of Idowu as a supreme headline-maker rather than a supreme competitor is grossly unfair, of course. Bar the Olympics, where he took silver in Beijing, he has won every major title, indoor and outdoor, that the sport has to offer.
However undeserved, though, the perception becomes reality for many observers and Phillips Idowu remains as well-known by the wider public for his image as for his performances. Perhaps he should take a leaf out of Kevin Pietersen’s book. After the 2005 Ashes, KP dispensed with the ludicrous skunk rinse he’d given himself, got his head down and became the model professional we all know today. Never in the headlines for the wrong reasons. What’s that…? Oh.Tagged in: football, Manchester City, Mario Balotelli
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