Mario Balotelli is a rare breed of a footballer. While his career has been a mixture of the sublime, brilliant and the absurd, his off-field persona has garnered him a fanbase like no other. Still only 30-years-old, the Italian striker has traversed clubs such as Inter Milan, Manchester City, Liverpool, AC Milan, Marseille and more as he finds the back of the net with unerring accuracy.

“The talent God gave me is beautiful and wonderful, but it is difficult because you are always facing other people keen to judge you. There are few people with such talent, so there are few able to judge what I am doing,” the striker once said and it is a quote that typifies the public perception of his personality. “Even if I don’t always behave as I should, this still doesn’t explain why so many people have something against me,” he added. “But you know how it is. A lot of people vent themselves by coming to the stadium to yell at me. I hope it’s not racism. I tell myself that it’s not racism; it’s because I’m tough, and I repeat this to myself.” Mario Balotelli, throughout the majority of his career, has required this mental strength with a shameful indictment on the pandemic that still ravages football; racism.

Born in Palermo, Sicily, as the son of Ghanaian immigrants, Balotelli has faced hardship from a young age. His family, with financial struggles beyond human belief, were forced to place him in foster care when he was just three-years-old, a decision stemming from their inability to pay for his health care needs. His foster parents, Jewish descendants of Holocaust survivors, raised him in the town of Concesio, Brescia, in northern Italy and, later, established a living routine which allowed a young Balotelli to visit his biological parents on weekends. It makes for a fascinating and eclectic mix of cultural surroundings, a factor which kept the striker grounded and culturally astute in equal measure. “Inside me I’m Ghanaian, and I’m proud to be African. But of course I’m Italian. I was born in Italy,” he once commented. “I am proud to be Italian because I was born in Italy, I grew up in Italy, I went to school in Italy and I have worked in Italy. I’m Italian.”

For Mario Balotelli, a deeply sensitive and intelligent athlete, the negative aspects of top level sport has blighted his approach, his career and his personal life. The incomprehensible journalistic tactics of the British tabloid press often provided an unfair and unanswerable reflection of his character, one which often caused an unwanted distraction to his career. “What is important for me is that the people who know me for real know Mario how he really is,” he once said. “People who don’t know me, they read newspapers and they watch TV. TV is made to give a lot of opinions… so I can’t show the real Mario to everybody,” he added, offering an insight into often un-winnable battle.

Despite his struggles, both as a child and as an adult, Balotelli has been able to adapt and thrive. The footballer, bilingual in a number of different languages, has adopted the culture of his surroundings with admirable sincerity. It’s all of the factors in his life which makes his selection of music choices so fascination, one which traverses genres with an artistic flow. Expect to see Kendrick Lamar, Gyptian, Rich The Kid, Drake, Jovanotti and more.

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