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About the Author
Frank Worrall is the author of Giggsy, The Magnificent Sevens, and Rory McIlroy.
Read an Excerpt
Why Always Me?
The Biography of Mario Balotelli, City's Legendary Striker
By Frank Worrall
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2013 Frank Worrall
All rights reserved.
A TROUBLED BOY
His childhood certainly was no easy ride. He would suffer from health problems and poverty – and would eventually end up living with foster parents. His troubled childhood would be a key factor in moulding his character and the person he would become as a footballer and would certainly contribute to the insecurities, defensiveness and pained psyche that would plague him as he became an international star.
Mario Barwuah Balotelli was born on August 12, 1990, in Palermo, Sicily, to Ghanaian immigrants Thomas and Rose Barwuah. They were poor and Mario lived in cramped accommodation with his parents and his sister Abigail, three years his elder. Thomas proved he would graft for his family by travelling back and forth every weekend on a 12-hour overnight train to find manual work, many miles away from their home. Rose stayed at home to look after Mario and Abigail. But Rose and Thomas faced further problems as Mario was in and out of hospital for the first two years of his life. He was diagnosed with life-threatening complications to his intestines shortly after birth, and would need a series of operations.
Thomas said, 'There were complications with Mario's intestines and he was in a bad way. The doctors were worried that he would not survive and we even had him baptised in hospital in case he died. For a year we were frantic with worry that he would not live. He was our first-born son and we were so proud when he was born, but we were left facing the prospect he might die.'
But Mario was a born fighter and by the age of two his condition had improved dramatically. The family now moved to Bagnolo on the outskirts of Brescia in northern Italy. They were still poor and initially lived in a cramped studio flat with another African family before asking social services for help, pointing out Mario had recently recovered from an operation.
Social services officers sympathised with their plight – and suggested that it might be for the best if Mario moved in with foster parents. The officers thought Mario would benefit if he went to live with Francesco and Silvio Balotelli, a white couple who already had two sons and a daughter of their own. Francesco, a warehouse supervisor in the pasta trade (now retired) and Silvio, originally a nurse and then a foster mother through much of her married life, lived in a big house in Concesio, an affluent nearby town, and social services pointed out to the Barwuahs that the move would bring stability and comfort to their son, who had suffered so much with his failing health.
Thomas Barwuah said: 'At first we were not sure but we decided it was probably best for Mario. We saw him every week and we all got on really well.'
Soon the Barwuahs moved to a council flat above a row of shops – and, two years after Mario was born, had another son, Enoch, who would also become a professional footballer. Thomas said he and his wife had agreed to a one-year foster placement, which was then extended by a further 12 months. But a division was opening up which would prove impossible to heal.
Thomas said, 'We thought that at some point, once things had sorted out, Mario would come back to us. But instead, every time we tried to get him back, the Balotellis kept extending the foster time. We couldn't afford lawyers to fight for us, so Mario grew more and more distant.
'He would come and visit and play with his brothers and sisters but he just didn't seem to have any time for us, his mother and father. We wanted him back for more than 10 years but, every time we tried, the courts blocked it.'
Instead Mario was brought up by the Balotellis. Even inside a well-off family he suffered at times – being the black child of white parents. It would lead him to turning his back on his Ghanaian heritage, taking the surname of his adopted parents and eventually becoming an Italian national. Inevitably, he would suffer racial abuse at school and in the street as he grew up with the Balotellis and would become 'both introverted and combustible' according to those who witnessed his development. His foster mother Silvio Balotelli would later outline his particular difficulties when she said, 'He was born and raised in Italy but had to suffer the humiliation and hardships of being considered a foreigner.'
I asked a psychotherapist friend to comment on Mario's situation. She said, 'It is not hard to see that he would have problems growing up. He must have suffered a sort of double identity crisis. On the one hand, he didn't know who were his real parents and would feel confusion and maybe guilt at choosing one over the other. Plus there would be anger at his biological parents for giving him away.
'Then you have the scenario of a black boy growing up in a white family. That must have also been confusing for him and he would surely get angry and defensive at being racially abused by other kids – although I am sure his new family would be loving and supportive. It all points to a young man with problems underneath the surface – anger, resentment, confusion and sadness – and all it would take would be something surrounding his situation for those simmering problems to boil over. I would imagine he could fly off the handle very easily. He might ultimately need therapy to "bring closure" to his upbringing and to help him cope emotionally with life. He might need cognitive help to bring his temper under control and to put a lid on those demons.'
At this stage, I must declare my indebtedness to Nick Pisa, the British journalist who operates for the UK press from Italy. Pisa has delved beneath the surface to uncover the problems Mario faced as a youngster – and all the quotes in this chapter are included courtesy of him. Pisa learned at first hand in Italy of the tug-of-war between the Barwuahs and the Balotellis that would lead to a breakdown of relations between Mario and his birth family.
Pisa says, 'According to Mario he was abandoned by his parents in hospital when he was two years old. It's a claim Thomas and Rose deny adamantly.
'I tracked down Thomas and Rose to their third floor council flat at Bagnolo Mella, where they live with their three other children Abigail, 22, Enoch, 17, and Angel, 11.
'Both Thomas and Rose have remained in the shadows ever since Mario hit the big time when he made his debut for Inter Milan at just 17 years old – after being turned down by Spanish giants Barcelona. Metal worker Thomas was close to tears as he proudly showed me pictures of young Mario as a baby and toddler growing up in the Sicilian city of Palermo before they moved north to Brescia.'
Pisa says Thomas and Rose were stunned when they learned that Mario had claimed they had let him down – Thomas told Nick, 'Mario was convinced we had abandoned him in a hospital but that's not true.' They were further shocked when Mario was reported to have said, "My real parents only want to know me now I am famous".'
Thomas told Pisa, 'I'm so fed up with Mario. How can he say we just want to know him for his money – it's not true – we gave him all the love we could.
'We have never spoken out because we didn't want to ruin his career but now enough is enough. I am fed up with Mario saying we abandoned him and I am fed up with him saying we just want his money.'
Pisa says, 'Certainly photographs dotted around the house are testimony of what appears to have been a happy normal childhood – Mario playing football, Mario in a suit at a family function, Mario play fighting his brother as Rose looks on. Thomas showed another photograph of Mario holding a football standing next to a three-year-old friend and said: "That picture was taken after he had spent hours playing football in the rain. We were at a friend's house in Vicenza and when the boys came in they were soaked but they were laughing and joking despite being wet and my friend said to Mario, "You really are Super Mario" and it's the name we gave him.'
Thomas added, 'You can see why we loved him and we still love him now, that's why I get so angry when I hear he's said these things about us. We don't want any money. We are Christians and every morning I thank God that I have my legs, my arms, my body and that I can work and provide for my family. We are not bothered about money because the more money you have then you lose respect for God. I'm happy with what I have and don't want anything, I just want us to get on.'
Thomas also said that during Mario's four years at Inter his son had only invited him to watch him play once and that was when they played Chelsea in the Champions League.
Thomas said: 'He turned up one day with four tickets and he gave them to his brother – I asked if I could come and watch and he said that Enoch had the tickets and he could do what he wanted with them. I don't want anything from him. I just want us to get on – now he is going to England and he will become even more famous. I don't think I will go there to see him – maybe his brother or his sisters will go but we won't go. He is not the same boy I knew when he was younger always laughing and smiling, he was trouble but in a good way.'
Thomas also described to Nick Pisa how he and his wife were not even invited to the ceremony when Mario was made an Italian citizen on his 18th birthday, saying: 'We didn't know anything about that until we saw it on the news. I didn't even know that he had taken the surname Balotelli. I thought he would still have our surname but he chose not to take it – I wish I knew why he is treating us like this.'
Thomas added, 'I saw him earlier this month and he told us that he would be moving to Manchester and like any father would I wish him well. I was so proud when he joined Inter and I am still proud of him I just want us to be how we were.'
Nick Pisa would later also uncover a split between Mario and his big sister, Abigail Barwuah. She would add to her father's criticisms, saying he had failed to keep in touch with his natural family over the years. Abigail added that he was risking his career after a series of high-profile incidents at City and she would echo the pleas of City manager Roberto Mancini and the Italian national coach Cesare Prandelli that her brother should 'take it easy' or risk 'throwing his career away.'
Abigail had become angry after she claimed Mario had shunned her as well as his parents. A month earlier, she had been voted off Italy's version of I'm A Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here! and she slammed her brother for not taking part in studio calls from Rome to the island off Honduras where the reality show was taking place.
She stormed: 'My brother has really disappointed me. It's clear to me that I don't mean anything to him. He didn't come into the studio, he didn't make a phone call and even his family haven't seen him. He is very self centred, maybe he doesn't want me to use him but I can make it on my own. I'm glad that I have shown I am not like him.
'He needs to try and calm down. I can't justify his behaviour anymore. He is nearly 21 years old and he is putting his career at risk.'
Abigail said: 'I was away for six weeks with the show and I never heard a word from him – when I speak about my siblings I'm talking only about Enoch and Angel. After being on I'm A Celebrity I realised that Mario didn't care about me. He could have come into the studio, just once to give me some support, even just a telephone call. He didn't do it during the show and he didn't do it afterwards – I haven't heard a thing from him. In six weeks that I was away he didn't even call to ask how I was, he didn't even call to see how his family were and Angel doesn't want to see him. Maybe he is annoyed that someone else in the family is famous. I've asked myself why he is like he is but I can't find an answer. Mario has never bothered to help me, even when he became famous and I don't mean financially. I have never been bothered about his money.'
Abigail then added: 'In the past when he was having a rough time I was there for him. I was there for him when everyone attacked him but now he is certainly not going to get any help from me any more. I'm sorry for what's happened to him but now he has to grow up. He is nearly 21 years old and he needs to start thinking. He cannot carry on with his Balotelli escapades – it's one thing to do them when you are 18 but it's another thing doing them now. It's time he calmed down otherwise he is really putting his career at risk. I'm glad that by taking part in I'm A Celebrity I've proved that our family is educated and I am not liking him.'
When asked if she would like to see her brother again Abigail said: 'I don't want to see him now. He has really disappointed me. He doesn't deserve my love and he doesn't deserve to be considered a brother.'
The Balotellis have always maintained a dignified silence on the matter. And while they have not commented on the claims of the Barwuahs, Mario himself has issued an official statement on the matter, saying, 'I had already asked my birth parents to respect my privacy, just as my family always has done, but they didn't listen to me. I have no other recourse than to repeat what I said two years ago: if I hadn't become the football star Mario Balotelli, they wouldn't have cared what happened to me. My birth parents have said some incorrect and vague things which put my adoptive family in a bad light. This is something I cannot let pass, especially because my real family lives in Brescia – the family that has always loved and raised me. They are the only family who really know me as Mario. Perhaps in Brescia they don't know that I stayed with my family uninterrupted for 16 years, the foster situation renewed every couple of years by the tribunal. Maybe they don't know that I personally asked for adoption since the age of 13, but only managed to make it official in December 2008.'
While Mario may, as a youngster, have had struggled with identity problems and keeping his footing in an Italian society that was at the time bedevilled by racist attitude, he had no problem keeping his footing on the football pitch – or in the garden or the local park as he developed into a fine young player. His foster father Franco played a big part in his development – taking time out to drive Mario to football practice, football matches plus all the other activities Mario, as a busy boy who loved sport, liked to partake in. They included being in the Scouts, playing basketball, running with the local athletics club, swimming and martial arts. Mario particularly loved karate and judo and it is often said that he would maybe have gone down the road of choosing martial arts as an alternative career had football not proved his saving grace.
He may not have been the most academically gifted boy in the class, but he was certainly the best athlete and the best footballer. On his personal website, www.mariobalotelli.it, Mario outlines how much he owes to the Balotellis for their love, comfort and encouragement – and how he himself knew he had a talent at football, 'Mario was born in Palermo on 12 August 1990, but has lived in Brescia with the Balotelli family since he was two. From the very start mum, dad, brothers Corrado and Giovanni, and sister Cristina (all much older than him) looked after little Mario with all the love of a parent, brother or sister. When he was just five Mario began playing football for the Mompiano parish team and was immediately grouped with the older boys because of his exceptional technical skills.'
Balotelli was on the road that would lead to superstardom – and to him becoming one of the world's most famous footballers. But his foster mother Silvio was not convinced he was on the right track and urged him to spend more time on his studies ... or even to consider becoming a basketball player! Giovanni Valenti, now youth team coach at AC Milan, told how he used to train Mario at Mompiano as a kid – and had to persuade Silvio that his future should be in football. Valenti said, 'His mother was not keen on the idea of him having a career in football. When he started having trials at decent local clubs, she made him recite his multiplication tables, like usual, while all the other parents were taking in advice.
Excerpted from Why Always Me? by Frank Worrall. Copyright © 2013 Frank Worrall. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 A Troubled Boy 1
Chapter 2 Inter the Big Time 17
Chapter 3 Mourinho Mayhem 31
Chapter 4 Mancini - The Surrogate Father 49
Chapter 5 Kissed by Good Fortune 75
Chapter 6 Welcome to Manchester 93
Chapter 7 Boy Blue 109
Chapter 8 Golden Year 129
Chapter 9 Banner Headlines 143
Chapter 10 End of the Hurt 165
Chapter 11 Italian Stallions 181
Chapter 12 Seeing Red 207
Chapter 13 City's Cantona 225
Chapter 14 Just Champion 247
Chapter 15 Fact and Fiction 265
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
We he put this shirt up it was hilarious. Mario Balotelli is amazing.