WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28: Mario Balotelli of Italy controls the ball as he runs through to score his team's second goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at the National Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images)
Mario Balotelli is on a mission: to simplify football. Tonight, he faces his biggest challenge. Follow @SBNationSoccer
In the face of a vortex of words on ‘philosophy', the swirling vocabulary of ‘tiki-taka', ‘double pivot' and ‘trequartista', it is easy to lose track of the innate simplicity of football. However disguised intellectually, football remains a game in which 22 individuals grouped into two sets of 11 try to ‘score on' their opponents and try to prevent their opponents from ‘scoring on' themselves. Logically speaking, football is a ‘closed system' since the rules of the game and the related parameters imposed on events by the physical demarcations of the pitch seriously limit the range of possible interactions and outcomes. Which, though, is to stray close to confirming my initial claim and thereby undermine my initial premise: that football is a simple game.
Mario Balotelli seems to have figured this out. In advance of Italy's glorious evisceration (made so by its beauty, paradoxical fragility and near forgivingness) of Germany, Why Always Me described football simply as ‘a job' and likened the scoring of goals to the successful delivery of post. In his interview with Oasis' Noel Gallagher, Balotelli answered an awe-struck question about his ability to convert penalties in high-pressure situations ("I couldn't do it") by pointing that "I am much better at football than you" and, then, "It's my job."
Some people, the Alan Shearer included, aren't convinced by Mario yet: "He's achieved nothing in the game," said the BBC pundit of the 21 year-old Champions League, Serie A, Premier League and FA Cup winner before Thursday's game. Shearer, characteristically, is talking nonsense. It is a peculiar type of nonsense, though, for a man so committed to a certain type of fairly meatheaded football because Shearer does have something of a point (stopped clocks, etc.): Balotelli does have a problem with consistency (fair enough, he's only 21 after all). His inconsistency, I think, and this is why Shearer is a surprising critic, is related to an occasional unfaithfulness to, or uncertainty in, Balotelli's own doctrines of footballing simplicity.
This tournament has thrown up three examples.
In Italy's first game, the final appetizer against Spain, Balotelli created a great chance for himself, which he spurned. Having robbed Sergio Ramos (who is not the fastest) on the byline, Balotelli dawdled, indecisively, toward goal and allowed Ramos to recover. Against England, in the quarter final, similar happened. Having been released over the top by Pirlo, Balotelli dawdled again -- seemingly waiting for Joe Hart to go to ground, Mario allowed John Terry (who is hours slower than Ramos) to salvage the situation. On Thursday, the same situation: released over the top by Claudio Marchisio, Balotelli took two touches and then shallacked the ball (74.8 mph) into the top corner of Manuel Neuer's goal. First uncertainty, then attempted finesse, eventually, simplicity; Balotelli rediscovered himself.
Whatever the game's dominant discourse, a powerful, swerving shot into the top corner will always be decisive and that's what Mario Balotelli provides; like haute-cuisine (French classics with a modern twist), Mario is not so much an enigma as an anachronism. The Italian striker represents physical, old school football tonight against Spain: the champions of the intellectual new-age.
With a significant contribution from double man of the match Andrea Pirlo, Mario has re-Ballotellified himself, and in so doing has revitalized football in his country and, possibly (/hopefully), internationally. Against Spain, the absolute collective embodiment of Philosophy Football, Italy will probably struggle to Balotellify the game. But they will try and if they can they will win: simplicity over complexity every time. Then, maybe, we will have more coaches and players talking about imitating the Italy way (or the Balotelli way) rather than the Spanish way. And if that happens, Mario will have saved football. Forza!
We'll have features, news updates and live coverage of the match in our Spain vs. Italy, Euro 2012 StoryStream. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.