Balotelli as Otis

This story caught my attention today.

The Sun reports that the Italian striker was asked for an autograph by the young fan at City’s training ground, but turned the tables on the lad by asking him why he was playing truant from school.

The boy explained that he was absent because he was being bullied – sparking an incredible reaction from the 20-year-old superstar.

The City ace drove the boy and his mother to the school and demanded to speak to both the headmaster and the bully, during which he apparently mediated as the two boys buried their differences.

That it appears soon after this interview probably isn’t a coincidence, but it does make you think.

“See, I do smile,” Balotelli says. “My public image is absolutely not a fair reflection of who I am. Sometimes I do the wrong thing and there are things I regret but I’m 20. People who know me are aware I’m not a bad guy but I’m shy; it’s difficult to be here giving an interview.”

Do any of our American readers remember Amos Otis?  Otis didn’t have the bad boy reputation that Balotelli has, but was seen to be a slightly tricky customer, so there are intriguing parallels.

This from Bill James’ 1984 Baseball Abstract:

In the years that Amos Otis was in Kansas City you would occasionally, maybe once a year, see a note in the letters section of the paper that went something like this:

As I was leaving Royals Stadium after the Royals/White Sox game of June 13 I experienced car trouble and was stranded for 25 terrible minutes in the heat beside I-70 as the postgame traffic rolled by. I was wondering how we would ever get out of there when a car stopped behind me and the driver asked if we needed help. To my amazement, the driver of that car was Amos Otis.

Amos had been cast by the media as a moody and unapproachable man, and that he is; he is moody, and he is unapproachable.

Amos Otis was an intensely private man leading an intensely public life. He disdained showmanship—probably he hated showmanship—of any type and to any extent. He could never quite deal with the fact that his business was putting on a show. This is what is called ‘moodiness’ by the media. Yet there was a rare, deep honesty about him that was the defining characteristic of him both as a man and as a ballplayer. He could not stand to do anything for show. He could not charge into walls (and risk his continued existence as a ballplayer) after balls that he could not catch. He could not rouse the fans (and risk his continued existence as a baserunner) with a stirring drive for a base too far. He never in his career stood at home plate and watched a ball clear the fence. McRae and Brett, they did that sort of thing; Otis would sometimes turn away interview requests with a sardonic comment, ‘Talk to Brett and McRae. They’re the team leaders.’

It went further than that. Amos could not quite walk down the line when he hit a popup (that, too, would be dishonest) but he could not bring himself to run, either. Because it was false, you see? He wouldn’t have been running for himself or for the team or for the base; he would have been running for the fans, or for the principle that one always ran.

But what you must also see is that the same honesty which denied Otis the indulgence of flair, the same feeling which required that he keep his kindnesses out of the view of the public, this is what built the wall around Amos. He could not give interviews because he could not recite cliches becase they are false.

James goes on and it’s all good stuff, but I had better not keep typing as a) it’s copyrighted and b) it’ll take forever.  In any case, it’s hard to know what to make of the media perception of Balotelli.  The suspicion remains that he’s one of the few sane people in the mad world of football. Or not.  Who knows?

6 thoughts on “Balotelli as Otis

  1. Thanks for pointing this out Rich. I find Balotelli truly enigmatic and find myself continuously defending him to my friends.

    The interview that you mention in the Guardian was very good and pointed to the fact he did not have the easiest time growing up. He was born in Palermo but moved north with parents who couldn’t look after him so he was adopted. Having spent much time in Northern Italy, all I can say is that I am glad I am white; it has gotten better of the past 10 years, but the Italian equivalent of the BNP (the lega nord) are very strong up there.

    He also does charity work out in Brazil for an orphanage, not just giving money, but actually going there. I guess the problem with Balotelli is that he committed one of the cardinal sins of football, upsetting Jose Mourinho, since then he has been a target. When he says things like ‘who is Jack Wilshere’, I am 100% certain he is simply trying to rile the media up, of course he knows who he is.

    Balotelli strikes me as similar to Craig Bellamy – misunderstood and miscast by the media. Bellamy too runs a football charity out in Sierra Leone and his comments about people in the footballing world (re:John Terry) are generally spot on. They both strike me as ‘Omar’ (from the wire) type figures. They understand how the footballing world works, and play a game, just not the one that 99% of footballers do.

    1. Excellent post. Really like the analogies to Bellamy and “Omar”. Before this article I’d never given a second thought to the general perception on Balotelli, but I have to say, having now read the Guardian interview, he does seem (very positively) to be outside the footballer norm.

    2. I loved it when he made that comment about Wilshere. And I loved the fallout. No, seriously, who is Jack Wilshere? What has he won? He’s just another great white English hope.

      Best Omar line: “I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game, though, right?”

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