While Uruguay were hammering Paraguay in the Copa America final today, Mario Balotelli and Manchester City were engaged in a pre-season friendly against Major League Soccer side Los Angeles Galaxy. During the game, which finished 1-1 and went to penalty shootouts for some reason, Mario Balotelli went clear through on goal and... well, tried something rather silly:
Yeah, that's a one on one backheel that a) was immensely cheeky and b) missed. Roberto Mancini was not amused, substituting his young forward immediately, causing Balotelli to go into a bit of a strop and excuse himself from the bench for the second half. The ESPN announcers were similarly dismayed, claiming that Mario Balotelli showed a complete lack of respect for the Galaxy in deciding to pull a trick like that in the middle of what for an MLS team is a prestigious mid-season friendly.
Balotelli, for his part, thought that he had been flagged offside and so tried something cool in a situation where it didn't matter at all. Every football player (except Didier Drogba, who uses all of them all the time) has a move which they'd never show outside of training, something too silly to deploy in an actual game. Why? Because it's fun! It's fun to do a weird crossover to pop the ball into the air for a volley while receiving a pass*. It's fun to practice strange twisting volleys off corners (ahem, Roberto). And it's fun to try backheels when one-on-one with a goalkeeper.
*That's my trick. No copying!
It'd be awesome to be able to say that Balotelli was promoting the idea of having fun over being serious in a game that ultimately doesn't matter, that idea is rather ruled out by the offside thing (unless he's lying, in which case more power to him). Pre-season is about getting match fit. Friendlies are about putting on a show. The score doesn't matter at all. So why are people getting on his case about it? And if Twitter is any guide, people are really annoyed that Balotelli pulled that stunt.
Would it have been ok if it were actually offside? If so, why is backheeling a dead ball in a dead game any different to doing so with the ball active? It's not like the game actually matters. Balotelli livened things up in a pointless match. Be glad of that, world. The game is supposed to be fun, and that goes double when you remove any and all incentive to win from the match. Are we really so engrossed in the win-at-all-costs nature of competitive football that this is unacceptable with the pressure off? If so, that's immensely depressing. It's July. Let the players enjoy themselves.
It's a lot better than watching Paraguay.