We’ve written a bit about the issues facing Mario Balotelli in Italy. While many have been quick to direct blame squarely on the youngster, Francesco Totti’s actions yesterday went a long way towards showing the double standard that exists in Italian football when it comes to the treatment of its petulant football stars. For those who didn’t see the horrific incident near the end of the Copa Italia final, below is a clip of Totti’s attack on Balotelli.
Before delving into the incident, it’s worth mentioning that it is a bit ironic that the man whose petulant streak most reminds me of Balotelli’s is the same man who viciously assaulted him, presumably for petulance.
In many ways, Balotelli is quite similar to a young Totti. As a young player, Totti was viewed as an immense talent who was both brash and arrogant. In 2004, Totti’s brashness and arrogance surfaced when he spat in the face of Danish midfielder Christian Poulsen during the European Championships. Yet through that incident and other mishaps, Totti never seemed to lose the backing of the fans, unlike Super Mario, who no matter what he does can’t quite seem to achieve a harmonious rapport with the football faithful in Italy. While Balotelli is treated with disdain, Totti is forever embraced.
After the assault on Balotelli yesterday, Totti, being the bastion of football etiquette that he is, said his actions were a result of previous statements and acts by Balotelli. What exactly he was referring to is unknown. However, many suspect that he was referring to Balotelli’s audacious goal celebration in front of the Roma supporters at the San Siro a year ago. What was the crime? Apparently Balotelli scored a brace and put his index finger to his mouth to hush the Roma supporters. If true, this is a bit ridiculous because Totti was the same man who made a thumbs-down gesture at Lazio fans a few weeks ago.
It is unthinkable that a player so experienced would commit such a premeditated and egregious offense, let alone do so in the midst of a major cup competition final that his team was losing 1-0. But imagine if Balotelli was the offender. Yikes. Had Balotelli been the culprit, he would have been lucky to escape the stadium in one piece. But this is Francesco Totti, Italy’s prodigal son. I’m sure he will get a slap on the wrist as he did for his thumbs-down gesture against Lazio. There’s nothing like a 20,000 euro fine to change the behavior of a footballer making multiples of that every week.
Why such blatant hypocrisy continues to exist is beyond me, but it needs to stop. Fans of football in Italy need to ask themselves why they refuse to allow Balotelli into the fraternity yet continue to embrace a man as flawed as Totti who has done worse things than his young victim. Time and time again, Totti has gotten away with the football equivalent of murder. If Totti can be forgiven for all of his on field displays of poor judgment, why can’t Balotelli be afforded the same treatment? Surely Mario’s sins aren’t so bad in comparison.