Raheem Sterling scored just two minutes into his Manchester City debut against Roma in Australia. Naturally, this was a moment that Liverpool fans embittered by the 20-year-old’s prolonged and hostile move away from their club were happy to ignore. But Mario Balotelli wouldn’t let them do that.
First, he tweeted encouragement to Sterling.
Then, when that didn’t go over well, he prodded Liverpool fans even further by praising the man who only just escaped from their support, urging them to disregard this and continue backing him.
Of course, this being football, his message of positivity and forgiveness was met with disdain and insults.
Agitating his club’s supporters is nothing new for Mario, though. Back when he was still with Inter, he wore a Milan shirt in public for a comedy show. He eventually apologized and was sold later that year.
A year after joining Man City, he stated his dislike for Manchester and said he wasn’t happy there. And last year, members of the press demanded that Balotelli apologize to Liverpool fans after swapping shirts with Pepe at halftime of a Champions League match.
Though Balotelli has frequently been accused of behaving like a child throughout his career, all of these incidents — trivial matters that should be dismissed by rational thought — reveal just how childish his accusers can be, as well. And it’s not just one set of supporters or a couple of specific media outlets — it’s rampant throughout the game and across national borders. The intense scrutiny on everything footballers say and do mixes with the belief that supporters must be pandered to at all times and produces an environment where even the most benign words and actions are viewed as either an active show of respect or disrespect.
With that said, Balotelli does still seem to have an innate talent for casually fueling these types of flare ups. This brings him personal abuse that he is both sensitive to and uninhibited by.
In a way, Balotelli is holding up a mirror for us to examine how we emotionally process this sport and our interest in it. Or maybe he’s just toying with the easily toyed with out of some combination of revenge and boredom.