By Kai Pfaffenbach
There were other big names supposed to be the super stars of this Euro 2012 – Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo, Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, Holland’s Robin van Persie or France’s Franck Ribery – they have all flown home by now and before the final between Spain and Italy there is only one guy left who will be recognized as the tournament’s big star: Mario Balotelli from Italy.
What a story. Adopted from African parents when he was three, brought up by Italian foster parents and now one of the most recognized strikers playing for England’s champions Manchester City and the man who brought Italy into the final with his two striking goals against an agonized German squad in the semi-final.
Covering all major soccer tournaments and big finals for the last 15 years I can’t remember one player who fascinates the media and fans like him. And it’s not only about the way he plays. The number of his nicknames seems endless. Super-Mario, after the popular video-game star, Balla-Balla Balotelli, as he is well known for his jokes with team mates or Mad Mario, as he gets quite furious on the pitch (he faced four red cards during the last Premier League) season.
After the semi-final he added another one himself: the postman! A journalist asked why he did not celebrate after his second goal against the Germans. He simply answered that it is his job to score goals and the postman delivering the daily mail does not celebrate at each end every letter box. Seconds of silence and then a big laugh of the media. But as much as they love him, they are also in some kind of conflict with him all the time. One Italian sport paper showed him in a cartoon as King Kong shaking Big Ben when Italy played England in their quarter finals – a lot other countries considered this as racism. The postman took it with a smile and delivered.
For a photographer he is a perfect subject to follow. He shows emotions, argues and plays with great engagement. When he scored his first goal of the semi-final against “my” German team he started his celebration and ran past our captain Phillip Lahm, making him look like a little school boy. We have this proverb saying: “Good boys go to heaven – bad boys make it everywhere” – in this case into the final….