On Monday afternoon, the Italian wonderboy “Super” Mario Balotelli made headlines for his work on the pitch, rather than his scandals off of it. (And this time it wasn’t for picking a fight with the field.) His back to the goal, with his powerful frame fending off Irish defender John O’Shea, Balotelli connected with Italian playmaker Andrea Pirlo’s inch-perfect pass, driving it over O’Shea’s shoulder and past a helpless Shay Given.
Balotelli’s volley condemned the already defeated Irish to an early exit from the European Tournament and secured Italy’s place in the second round, but it was significant for another reason as well.
Consider a few recent examples: In the English Premier League in April, after being red carded for a brutally dangerous tackle, Balotelli’s Manchester City manager Robert Mancini said, “I’m finished. We have six games left and he will not play.” But when the hour was dark and the title was slipping out of Manchester City’s grasp, on came Super Mario, providing an assist to help defeat Queens Park Rangers, win the match and the league. And just like that, he was redeemed.
Then, against Spain last week, Balotelli threw a fit on the field, pounding the ground with his fists and later receiving a yellow card for his accumulation of fouls. More troublingly, he was unable to pull the trigger on a breakaway, and had the ball stolen from behind. He was subbed out, and continued his temper tantrum on the bench, throwing his head back, and his arms to the side, while noticeably ignoring the game. In the next match against Croatia, Balotelli started, but was subbed after a disappointing effort. Then, on Monday, he was subbed in against Ireland and notched the beauty that the analysts are buzzing about. And just like that, Balotelli is forgiven again.