Mario Balotelli - Italy's Super Talented, Super Complicated Soccer Star

A standout for Manchester City in England's Premier League, the Palermo-born son of Ghanaian immigrants is making waves as Italy advances to the quarterfinals -- against England.

Taking a break (Brianza2008)
Taking a break (Brianza2008)
Massimiliano Nerozzi

KRAKOW – When Mario Balotelli gets up in the morning and leaves his room at the Turowka hotel in Wieliczka, the Polish town hosting the Italian national soccer team during the Euro 2012 soccer championships, he will inevitably pass a teammate in the hall. Sometimes he says "ciao", and sometimes doesn't. No one ever knows how it will go, not even Balotelli.

It's not that the 21-year-old star striker is rude, he's just in his own world. "He's like all naturally talented people: he's not got a clue what he's doing," said of him singer Noel Gallagher who recently interviewed him for the BBC.

This is quintessential Balotelli: he scores a goal, and gets angry. Or, at the very least, doesn't celebrate. It happened again on Monday, in Poznan, when Italy played Ireland. After his goal, came the rage. Only Italian defender Leo Bonucci was able to stop at mid-sentence the "Sons of ..." Balotelli screamed in English at the Irish supporters who had booed him.

On Tuesday afternoon, the coach of the Italian team, Cesare Prandelli, called him to debrief. "What happened? Were you mad at me?" he asked, like a patient teacher with a troublesome, but gifted student. "No, I was mad at everyone," Balotelli admitted after a five-minute chat. According to his manager -- and translator of his moods -- Mino Raiola, Balotelli feels that when Italy wins, people credit the team; when they lose, they blame Balotelli. People say that he has the devil inside. Maybe he is just a big child. But he is no longer a teenage phenomenon, and this is no longer an acceptable excuse.

It is time to grow up, because people around him are getting tired of his tantrums. "When he will finally understand that no one has it in for him, and that we are all here to help him, he will become a world-class player," said Prandelli.

"He hates reporters because he cannot understand why they are so interested in him," a teammate says. In Krakow, he fought with photographers and broadcast journalists when they spotted him with his new girlfriend. On Tuesday, he limited himself to an ice cream and a walk.

Hyper-sensitive and childish

"Mario is a golden boy, but I think that there are some uneasy situations, such as the criticisms and the bench, that everyone has to learn to accept in order to become a champion," says Prandelli. "Or maybe the team is asking something more of you, because they know you can give it more."

Before the match against Ireland on Monday, the team told him that it was everyone's big chance, not only just his own. In the end, Italy succeeded, and next Sunday faces off against England in the quarterfinals.

Balotelli's goal -- after one by Antonio Cassano -- was crucial. This is why Prandelli's final evaluation is positive. "He entered in the second half and did what we had asked him to do," the coach said. "The smile must be spontaneous. If it is planned, the celebration never works." He added. "Or maybe he has not understood yet how to celebrate. Maybe in that moment he has many thoughts. He stops and is not able to express what he feels."

Balotelli's early years were difficult. He was born in Sicily, to Ghanaian immigrants. Plagued with health problems which required many operations, an Italian couple took him as a foster child when he was just three-years-old.

Everyone says that Balotelli is a "good" person in the end, and always ready to help. On the other hand, he is also "hyper-sensitive and childish," and sometimes goes too far with jokes and silliness. On Tuesday, he was having fun kicking the ball as strong as he could against his teammates' heads. Even when he plays, he can get on people's nerves.

There is one last point that must be confronted. For sure, Balotelli is the first black player to play for the Italian national soccer team in a major tournament, and he has been racially taunted by fans. "Racists are everywhere," notes Prandelli. "But often Balotelli is booed for another reason: he is a formidable opponent who often brags and becomes unpleasant."

Becoming more a part of the team is an essential, but difficult goal. "Balotelli is like this. It looks as if he was a stranger in the team, but it is not true. It depends on the moment and on the mood," Prandelli explains. It is understandable to be moody once in a while – but when it's always, it's just childish.

Read the original article in Italian in La Stampa.

Photo - Brianza2008

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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