Thursday, 28 June 2012

Why always Mario?

“He’s scored a goal, so what?  He’s going to go and tell the coach he’s the best player.  They’re down to ten men, all the Irish players are completely goosed and now he’s going to tell everyone he’s he best.”  So Mick McCarthy greeted Mario Ballotelli’s goal for Italy in their final group game against Ireland.  Instead of focusing on the quality of the strike, he instead left little room for doubt about what he thinks of the striker.  In the post-match analysis Alan Hansen acknowledged the “finish was great but not as good as Mick McCarthy’s commentary – that was sensational”.  Let it not be said Hansen doesn’t earn his share of your licence fee.

You probably know that the focus of McCarthy and Hansen’s contempt was the fact Balotelli started to say something after the goal but his teammate Leonardo Bonucci thrust his hand over his mouth to stop him.  While many of us might wish Bonucci could spend each episode of Match of the Day with his hand clasped tightly over Hansen’s mouth (just to stop him talking, not breathing – I’m not unreasonable) the reality is neither McCarthy nor Hansen knew what Balotelli was saying and thanks to Bonucci we still don’t but the BBC’s 'finest' were happy to sit in judgement and condemn Balotelli for supposedly directing his ire at his coach.

By last Thursday, once the reports of England’s game against Ukraine were out of the way, it was on to the build up to their quarter-final and when talking about Italy, the English Press focused their attention on one man.  Matt Lawton wrote in the Daily Mail on the Friday, “Mario Balotelli’s efforts to lie low appear to have failed as he continues to dominate the Italian angle of the showdown with England”.  Mmm, I wonder who’s responsible for that, Matt?  It’s not Mario, that’s for sure but you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Italy would have another ten men on the pitch against England.

Accompanying Lawton’s article was a picture of Balotelli lying down while his Italian team mates did press ups.  There was no context (there rarely is) but we were told the “Floored genius” was “skiving”.  Which is odd, because the day before Oliver Holt of the Daily Mirror wrote about a training session for Italy’s strikers:  “For some it was routine.  Not for Mario Balotelli.  The Manchester City striker lashed the ball past the keeper with a venom that seemed excessive for a relaxed training session.”  So, let me get this straight, when Mario doesn’t engage in the press ups, he’s lazy but when he kicks a ball in a way subjectively deemed to be too hard it’s evidence of his “volatility” and “suspect temperament”?  Or is it really just evidence of the tabloids’ tiresome over-analysis of one person?

Hansen says "shut your mouth"
The day before the game the Daily Mail claimed that Balotelli “represents everything wrong with modern football”.  Harsh words, and there was me thinking it was the racism on the terraces that Balotelli has repeatedly had to endure, or the fact that Uefa considers branded underwear a worse crime than such abuse or many of the other ills that beset the game.  “His behaviour,” the Mail went on “makes Gascoigne look like a choirboy”.  Would this be the Paul Gascoigne who admitted beating his wife regularly over a two-year period?  Or the Paul Gascoigne who was in 2010 arrested for possession of cocaine and twice for drink driving?  To top it all off, the Mail told us Balotelli has “recently bought a pair of chow chow puppies”.  The man’s depravity knows no end.

I’ve got a lot of time for Gazza and I drag up his past merely to make the point that, as things stand, Balotelli’s behaviour pales by comparison, but the Mail’s contrasting of the pair is insightful. 

Garry Whannel has written about the media’s treatment of Gazza in the context of the tabloidization of the Press which according to Whannel has increased the ‘culture of surveillance’ blurring the line between the ‘public’ and ‘private’ lives of top footballers.  It’s also one that places greater news value on “sensation or scandal” than praise once a star becomes established (something that doesn’t just affect footballers).  This meant the Daily Mail didn’t see a problem suggesting Balotelli is most well known for his “gross sexual excess” their definition of which was ‘reportedly’ cheating on his girlfriend with the ‘hooker’ with whom Wayne Rooney cheated on his wife.  To add hypocrisy to their prurience Rooney’s exploits passed without reproach.

But this was tucked away at the front of the paper.  The biggest concern about Balotelli for the self-righteous pundits is his temperament.  Equally, Gazza’s biggest crime was not letting down Sheryl - the wife that he beat - or their children or even himself.  No, Gazza’s biggest crime was letting down his country.  This tabloid definition of masculinity is one which requires self-discipline not for the good of the individual or their family, but for the good of their country.

A similar narrative has developed around Ronaldo.  Hansen described the player as petulant after he showed frustration for failing to keep a ball in play.  Had that been an England player no doubt the “petulance” would have morphed into “passion” or “commitment”.  During Portugal’s quarter-final against the Czech Republic, Jonathan Pearce described the striker as “posing, preening”.  What was Ronaldo doing at the time?  Standing perfectly still while preparing himself to take a free kick.  Would these be the type of words used to describe a Englishman (say, Steven Gerrard) standing still while waiting to take a free kick?  I suspect he would instead be “focused” or “heroic”.

Pearce also dismissed Ronaldo as having “yet to prove himself as a tournament player” and there was me thinking he was the first (and only) Portuguese player to score in five consecutive tournaments (including the opener in a Euro 2004 semi-final win).  I’ve also clearly got him confused with the Ronaldo who was shortlisted as young player of the 2006 World Cup after Portugal again reached the semis.  That he lost out to Lukas Podolski was, Fifa acknowledged, in large part due to an internet campaign by England fans after the Portuguese had had the audacity to wink following Rooney's sending off during the countries’ quarter-final.  Earlier in this current tournament two commentators seriously discussed whether Ronaldo had made sure his captain’s armband was bigger than anyone else’s.  I might be wrong but I think it was Pearce again and his miserable sidekick Mark Lawrenson but they’ve all blended in to one condescending drone for me, either way it’s laughable.

It continued last night. As Ronaldo received treatment late in Portugal’s semi-final defeat to Spain Martin Keown dismissively sneered that all that was hurt was his “ego”.  Replays clearly showed Ronaldo had taken a boot in the back and even if he wasn’t badly hurt he was probably just after a well-earned breather having, just like his teammates, run himself into the ground.  The problem, you see is that Ronaldo markets himself as “CR7” has a carefully constructed image and the implicit criticism is that he should concentrate on playing, not all this fancy stuff.  It was a criticism also levelled at David Beckham in his preening pomp.

You’d never catch the current crop of England players “preening”.  Well you would actually.  In the wake of England’s victory over the Ukraine, a considerable amount of column inches and front page space were devoted to Rooney’s goal celebration and the fact that he borrowed Andy Carroll’s “product”.  Somehow their concern with the way they looked seemed to be OK. A Sun probe (“Full story – Pages 4, 5, 6 & 7) even revealed our “hairos’” “Weapon of Match Destruction” was just a bog standard hair spray, ’ave that Ronaldo you poser.

Much of the coverage of both Balotelli and Ronaldo indulges in implicitly racial, albeit subtle, stereotype, as did the coverage of another ‘temperamental’ foreign bad boy Eric Cantona.  A study, by Simon Gardiner in 1998, of the reports of the Frenchman’s attempt to literally kick racism out of football showed that much of the scorn directed at the Manchester United player was rooted in a wider cultural distrust of the French by the English.  Following Cantona’s eight-month ban, Nike capitalised on the event through a series of adverts which played on narratives constructed around his media persona.

Rooney heralded his return to the international stage follwoing his two-game ban not just with a goal against Ukraine but with a viral (and TV) ad also by Nike that played to his roller-coaster career by utilising snippets of commentary from his first goal for Everton to his sending off against Montenegro. (It’s a trick Nike keep pulling from their advertising playbook having done exactly the same on Tiger Woods’ return to golf two years ago.)  Unfortunately for England it transpired Rooney's time is not now but the Nike ads play into the celebration-punishment-redemption cycle that Whannel identifies as crucial to the artificial world of male sports-star media coverage.

There’s no room for women in this overtly masculine world.  Well there is of course.  On Page 3 of last Thursday’s Sun we were told that Rosie (21, from Middlesex) was “surprised that England’s super-rich soccer stars have chosen a £2.65 hair gel as there secret weapon”.  She added: “As the great American philanthropist Warren Buffet said: ‘Price is what you pay, value is what you get’.”  It was an insightful comment, but let’s face it most of the paper’s readers won’t have made it past her tits.

Four pages further in we were told that “the talent is not limited to the pitch” with each team in “those quarter-finals in full” represented by a picture of an attractive lady cheering on her national team.  No names, but hey! They’re only eye candy, innit?  And on the day before the quarter-final with Italy The Sun devoted most of Page 3 to a picture of Alena Seredova (predictably in bra and kickers) the wife of Italian ’keeper Gianluigi Buffon “LET’S HOPE SHE PUTS HIM OFF” the paper implored.

The paper also told us about a “JILTED WIFE IN BANNER STUNT”.  The article detailed how “An England fan’s miffed missus slated him for missing their anniversary to see England play at the tournament – in a banner on a motorway.”  Apparently her hubby was off to see the Italy game but while she told him not to rush back a “witness” said: “They’ll have an anniversary every year – this is our best chance in a long time”.  Yeah, get you’re priorities right, luv.

Stephen Wagg, now a professor at Leeds Met University has written often about tabloid football coverage and about the representation of women in that coverage and what he has to say is worth quoting at length: “In tabloid-speak and in the sorts of ‘male talk’ which more widely characterise discussion around football in England women do not much watch, play or otherwise support the game.  Instead, they most frequently constitute the ‘sex angle’ or are implicated via the more bizarre of the footballing widows/sexual apartheid news stories which journalists now seem to make an integral part of the coverage of almost all major championships”.  Spot on, don’t you think?

But here’s the thing, he wrote that in 1991.  The fact he could have written it yesterday is a pretty damning indictment of the lack of imagination of tabloid coverage.  Like English football itself the reportage surrounding the team is just using the same tired old style, built on a philosophy from a bygone era.

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1 comment:

Shayari said...

Talent transcend brazenness!!!! Mario as per ur story seems like very very passionate player and does not want to compromise anything even his life and that is nothing except beyond or extreme!!!!!!! But for good for sports,nation and may be not for himself as some people may not like his style!!!!!!! Its ok being different means challenging the normal and we have normal people around the world and nothing wrong in that as long as he loves all of them!!!!!! It seems some people are picking on him for the reasons known to them!!!!!!!! May be his style which is natural!!!! He is unique and different because of style!!!!!!! Imagine taking mike pheleps style of agression he wont be able to make gold in olympics!!!! Remember living with the different values and behavior also means real meaning of democracy!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Anyone who is being raised in different value system and environment will have personality of different kind and that is versatile!!!!!!!!!!!! Better respect him or get ready to face the world criticism. Of course not mario if he has to remain like that he has to remain focus on this strength and that is nothing except passion for game and loving people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Moral:--- love one and love all and move