Manchester City’s highly paid reprobate Mario Balotelli has escaped F.A. censure after
attempted murder a violent challenge on Arsenal’s Alex Song, and the Guardian’s Rodge Glass proposes Baltotelli’s character flaws are, weirdly enough, his primary (only?) appeal. “In an age where the gap between rich and poor, player and fan, is so disgustingly vast,” muses Glass, “it’s harder than ever for fans to relate to the millionaire hired hands representing them.”
Balotelli admitted he had never heard of Manchester City before signing for them, so it becomes tough to believe in anything but that player’s superhuman celebrity. Somehow we need to make him reachable – to be reminded he is just a man – and public humiliation is a powerful leveller. It allows us to believe, just for a little while, that despite the escalating circus which has taken football so far from ordinary people, the game is still worth caring about.
This rule of levelling has applied to a thousand football scandals over the years. The power of seeing Maradona become fat came from millions feeling better about their own struggles with weight. They got to laugh at him and forget themselves. With Paul Gascoigne, his breakdown was a reminder of just how vulnerable human beings are, and how close any one of us might be to collapse at any given moment. George Best was a classic example, and particularly potent to those of us who like a drink. And in the case of Ryan Giggs, anyone who had ever either had an affair or wondered about having one suddenly got to feel closer to a man who had previously been held up as the whiter than white last gentleman of the game who had won everything, achieved everything and never made a single human mistake.