Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Super Mario or Mad Mario?

Mario Balotelli, a 21-year old Italian footballer, signed for Manchester City F.C in August 2010 for a reported €22 million. Here began one of the most tumultuous stories of the Premier League era. Balotelli is a handful, in fact most definitely more than a handful, but is he worth the trouble?  Lets look at Mario’s achievements in the league so far and some of his mad moments, of which there are plenty to choose from, and discover whether he is a good thing for the Premier League or whether he is a becoming a bad influence on both the Premier League and young males living in England.

There is a good side to Balotelli that has earned him the nickname ‘Super Mario’. Balotelli is a strong, powerful forward, very direct with a great shot on him; occasionally he shows promising signs of becoming a very good footballer. He is one of those exciting, firecracker players everyone would love to have in their team, you never know what he is capable of doing next. 17 goals in 32 games this season along with a Premier League winners medal is by anyone’s standards a successful season. He played a pivitol role this summer with Italy, scoring three goals, including both in the 2-1 win over Germany in the Semi-Final, as the Azzurri reached the final. But all of his achievements are consistently over-shadowed by the way Balotelli carries himself both on and off the pitch.

On the pitch, Balotelli is Jekyll and Hyde. There are countless examples of this from last season. Against Liverpool in November, Balotelli entered the fray in the 65th minute before departing in the 83rd after 2 yellow cards for petty, blatant and unnecessary fouls; an almost identical incident to this occurred against Arsenal towards the end of the season, which could have cost City the title. Balotelli was also retrospectively banned for four games following a stamp on Tottenham’s Scott Parker that went unnoticed; naturally Balotelli was the match winner that day, scoring an injury time penalty.

It is these on field antics that taint Balotelli’s talent. Even as a substitute he cannot stay out of the headlines, reportedly using his iPad on the bench during an international match. If he wants to become the player many believe he can, he must lose a certain aspect of his unpredictability from his character; otherwise people will begin to lose faith in him. It’s not the on-field problems that are Balotelli’s biggest problem; it’s his erratic and irresponsible behavior off it that’s of most concern.

Here are a few tabloid stories about Balotelli that have emerged in the two years he has been living in Manchester-
  • ·      In March 2011, Balotelli was accused of throwing a dart at a Manchester City youth-team player for which he was fined £100,000.
  • ·      After crashing his car in the first few weeks of living in Manchester a policeman asked Balotelli why he was carrying £5000 cash on the passenger seat to which he replied ‘Because I am rich’.
  • ·      The night before the first Manchester Derby this season, Balotelli had to flee his house after fireworks were set off in his bathroom.
  • ·      In November 2010 Mario reportedly pulled into a petrol station and told everyone to fill their petrol tanks up, as he was going to pay for it.
  • ·      On New Years Eve 2011, Balotelli reportedly rounded up around 20 homeless people in Manchester and paid for them to stay in the Hilton Hotel in the city centre.

Under good football management, Balotelli can work on stamping out those ‘hot head’ moments on the pitch but away from football, the Italian youngster has no one to guide him. Living on his own in a foreign country without any rules to abide by, he has free reign to do what he wants and this he does. He needs to learn quickly how to deal with being a well-known face.

What Balotelli fails to grasp is that his behavior has knock on effects for those young football fans that view him as a hero, as someone to aspire to. They see him acting the fool and they think its cool. Admittedly after the firework incident he began working with the Manchester Police fronting a firework safety campaign but it almost seemed like a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ move by the young Italian. The message he is sending out to young football fans is a bad one; he is living life with no rules and to impressionable young fans, it looks like a lot of fun.

Is Balotelli good for the Premier League? In purely a football sense, yes he is. He is young and once he rids himself of his temper issues, he will be one of the most exciting footballers to watch. But, he has to address the way he lives outside of football; he must begin acting like a good ambassador for the sport, as someone to aspire to or else risk losing the faith many have placed in him. For one too many more stories like those above will put serious strain on his relationship with the British Public. We all love a controversial figure, but at some point the controversy has got to stop.

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Monday, 9 July 2012

Game, Set and Matched

In the immediate aftermath of the Australian Open this year, an interesting fact came to light.  Novak Djokovic, the 2012 men’s singles champion, spent close to 11 hours on court during his semi-final and final matches alone; Victoria Azarenka, the women’s champion, spent just over 10 hours on court in the entire tournament. Both Djokovic and Azarenka walked away with the same winners prize money of $2,300,000 AUS. It didn’t used to be this way; the Men's champion used to be paid more than the Ladie's champion at a Grand Slam event. Aside from the US Open, which has had equal pay for three decades now, the other three have only recently made the change, the Australian Open in 2000, Wimbledon and the French Open in 2007. Is this fair? Should they be paid the same?

It is the belief in some corners that equal pay is a discrepancy in tennis. Their argument is that if in a standard office environment, a man and a woman did considerably different hours of work, then they would not be paid the same for their efforts. They argue that men play the best of five sets and women the best of only three, if the women want equal pay they must play the best of five sets. Records show that the average men’s tennis set at Wimbledon takes 30 minutes longer to play than the average women’s. This results in the men’s champion having played on average 3½ hours more tennis than the women’s champion. It’s argued that if women want the same prize money as men, they should be prepared to play the same number of sets. If they did, this would provide Wimbledon, or any of the Grand Slams, with more advertising time for networks and sponsors, and it’s from this advertising time that Grand Slams make a large percentage of their revenue from which comes the prize fund; if the men are earning more of the prize fund in the first place by playing longer matches, surely they are eligible for a large cut of it at the end?

It is unacceptable to think women can be paid less than men for doing the same job. Sport or not, the widely accepted principle of equal pay in the workplace ought to be put into practice here too; these are professionals with jobs that should be treated like any other. Talk of longer play by men and the number of sets is totally irrelevant. The champion is the champion; they’ve beaten everyone in their field, and deserve full recognition.  At the end of the day, for these tennis players, the money is a bonus, they aren’t playing for money it is much more about recognition of their talents. Furthermore, elite sports are extremely high profile, and the rewards involved send out a message that the whole of society looks to. Thus, in having unequal prize funds, the organizers of some of our most popular events don’t just look down on women’s sports they look down on women.

Tennis is one of the most mentally tough sports to play. You are on your own out on that court, battling the mind in so many ways. Are you better than your opponent? How tired are you feeling? Are you good enough to win? The game is the same for both men and women, so therefore the pay should without doubt be the same. This nonsense of higher pay for men is talk from 40 years ago. Although all four Grand Slams are now equal pay, many tour events, in which both men and women play 3 set matches, still offer higher winners cheques for the men.  In order to stamp out any remaining advocates of unequal pay, these tour events should follow suit and adopt equal prize money as soon as possible and only then can this out of date debate be put to bed.

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