Have you heard the latest Mario Balotelli story? No? Well, get this.
The hero of the piece—Super Mario, Mad Mario, or whatever you want to call him—is now based on Merseyside having signed for Liverpool, and he was actually seen by people walking in the actual streets with friends, high-fiving supporters as he did so. What a crazy man. What a story!
We’re exaggerating, of course, but this tale of “man walks down road” was enough of an attraction for the Liverpool Echo website to publish details of it this week, as Balotelli looked "totally relaxed” when he met some of his new fans, who of course “couldn’t believe it.”
Now a Balotelli story sells, we all know that, and this tale of his little walk is currently ranking as the most read story on the Echo website. The man’s name alone just guarantees hits—which is hopefully what we’re proving on this very page—but at a time when Liverpool are seeking to get the Italian’s head right for the challenges in the weeks, months and hopefully years ahead, is it really what they need?
Of course, you can’t buy a dog and complain when it barks. This media interest is always going to follow Balotelli around.
@FinallyMario has just over three million followers on Twitter, which is just a little less than the main @LFC account itself (although the Reds have several, heavily followed versions in languages other than English). As was eventually, exhaustively proved with Luis Suarez, no man is bigger than the club—although they might get a similar amount of retweets.
Whilst we’re on the subject of social media, Balotelli’s Instagram account—on which he posted a Bill Shankly quote this morning—tells the tale of a happy, confident young man who is relishing the challenges of his new club and his new life.
There seems to be a collective will from everyone at Anfield for this move to work out both for Balotelli the man as well as Balotelli the player, but for that to happen, everyone needs to be singing from the same hymn sheet, especially as those on the outside will have a different narrative.
As was excellently detailed in a piece by Dave Martinez on The Anfield Wrap website, this has to start with a manager who is perhaps rather egotistically hoping to be seen as the man who turned the Italian’s career around.
You could argue that this is what drew Brendan Rodgers towards the idea of signing Balotelli almost as much as the player’s outright quality, but the Northern Irishman would do well to remember that treating him “like one of the lads” comes directly from Rodgers himself.
It’s safe to say that some of the comments he made about Balotelli post the Tottenham win, detailed here by ESPN, wouldn’t have been made about other members of his squad or Suarez when he was around, and all of it goes into this Balotelli media hype machine that Rodgers apparently wants the player to ignore.
You can rest assured that the stories of how the forward does something stupid, lets Liverpool down in a big game and is unable to handle the pressure have already been written by the smiling faces muttering, “I told you so.” All it takes now is for the events to actually happen.
But, at 24, what if Balotelli really has found his home? What if he really does want to knuckle down and get things right? Stories of him going for a walk are hardly going to help, and neither will comments like those from Rodgers.
Of course, all of this goes hand in hand with what the player himself does.
If Balotelli really wanted to live a quiet life, then he wouldn’t be starring in adverts with a couple of girls in a hot tub or posting pictures of his torso on Instagram. He fuels the fire, but he should also have built up enough experience to be able to deal with it by now.
If we’ve now reached an age where Balotelli doing anything at all is news, then the reaction when he does something extraordinary is going to be off the scale.
It’s up to him whether that extraordinary act is a good or a bad one, but as he strives to make it the former, he could do with a hand from those closest to him, even if that hand is just offering up a high-five.