Amidst all the bombast and inflated excitement of Transfer Deadline Day, it’s easy to forget that there are two sides to every transfer and – as the metaphor suggests – two sides to every transfer window. At the level of individual clubs, the truth of this is easy to see: Mikel Arteta’s deadline day move to Arsenal from Everton pleased fans of the former and dismayed those of the latter. But it’s also true at a collective level.
Some transfers make a whole league poorer, and should dismay us all. Mario Balotelli’s €23,000,000 move from Manchester City to AC Milan is one of these (unless your league loyalties are more continental; in that case, kudos, read this piece instead and enjoy the Balotellification). Some, though, do the opposite and we’ll get to them; first, I need to say goodbye.
As much as partisanship defines the football watching experience, and contextualizes every narrative, all fans’ experiences are also inflected by the personalities and identities of their opponents. Anecdotally, think how much of your time is spent – either through highlights shows, your own team's matches or games you watch because you’ve nothing better to do – watching other teams play.
As I'm not a Man City fan, I’d much rather that the bulk of my football-watching life spent in their company was Balotelli time. This is especially so since no Balotelli undoubtedly means more Edin Dzeko (easily the blandest of the Premier League’s elite strikers).
Balotelli, moreover, is the future of top-level forward play. Skillful, fast, direct, powerful and with an excellent, instinctive finishing style, Balotelli combines different styles of striker in one (admittedly temperamental) package. City find themselves with three strikers in two types – the target man (Dzeko) and the mobile (Sergio Aguero; Carlos Tevez) – Balotelli can be both of these – and a poacher too.
Look again at his goals against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season. Still only 22, which is incredibly young for a striker at this level, City have cut their losses on Balotelli too early. As world football marches on in the cultivation of the superman, Balotelli was City’s only man in that mold.
Now we have all been deprived of the opportunity to watch that development unfold vicariously. The sort of passive awareness of this process that Balotelli’s continued involvement with the Premier League would have brought (a passivity which, likewise, spares us the frustration involved in the process) has gone. We now have to seek him outside our league of choice/convenience.
Unless you were a student of Belgian football or an avid computer game player, you’re unlikely to have known much about these two superb young strikers prior to their moves to the Premier League (and unless you were a follower of Chelsea’s reserves, you’re unlikely to have known much about Lukaku before his loan move to West Bromwich Albion).
So, if we should all be sad about Balotelli’s departure, we should enjoy the development of other cosmopolitan starlets, and hope more get brought in so we can enjoy watching them grow up too. Seeing these players develop at second hand is an ideal situation (they don’t, after all, always work out: for every Cristiano Ronaldo there’s a Zoran Tošić).
Urging fans of acquisitively dormant clubs (Arsenal) to find consolation in the possible arrival of the next Ronaldo at a rival may seem counter-intuitive, but it is, in truth, the best that they can hope for. It will make your football-watching life better. Trust me.