’Why always me?’ When Mario Balotelli lifted his jersey to reveal that famous T-shirt during Manchester City’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford, he all but wrote his own epitaph.
Balotelli will not be remembered as one of humanity’s great philosophers and his grasp of English is so poor that it would be easy to dismiss that T-shirt as little more than a soundless primal scream.
But, intentional or not, ’Why always me?’ has provided as perfect an insight as there has been into the man who could wreck England’s European Championship hopes on Sunday.
That the Italy enigma could just as easily destroy his own country’s semi-final chances has given manager Cesare Prandelli a real dilemma about whether to start him in Kiev.
Prandelli dropped him from the starting line-up for Monday’s decisive Group C match against Republic of Ireland, the 21-year-old responding with the combustible combination of brilliance and petulance that makes him so compelling.
Paul Gascoigne’s name inevitably comes to mind ahead of England and Italy’s first match at a major finals since the 1990 World Cup.
And while Wayne Rooney has long been dubbed Gascoigne’s heir apparent – even assuming the nickname ’Wazza’ – it is Balotelli who better demonstrates the childishness and self-destructiveness that characterised the former England talisman’s career.
Like Gascoigne, a legend has developed around Balotelli, who has become as famous for his off-field antics as his exploits on the pitch.
Truth and fiction have become blurred to such a degree that it is hard to remember whether Balotelli really did drive around Manchester in a blue Santa Claus hat and if his bathroom really was set alight by a firework let off by one of his friends.
Like Gascoigne, he has become a loveable rogue in the eyes of English football fans.
But, like Gascoigne, Italians are far more concerned about a perceived lack of professionalism.
Balotelli may put bums on seats but he also tests the patience of managers and team-mates to distraction.
City boss Roberto Mancini declared after his sending-off at Arsenal in April that he was “finished” with the striker, while Prandelli has told the maverick star he risked alienating the rest of the Italy squad if he does not learn to accept being dropped when he is not playing well.
Daniele De Rossi could not have summed up the mixed feelings towards him better today as Balotelli’s name once again dominated the press conference of one of his team-mates.
Asked about the “scandals” that have dogged Balotelli since his move to England, De Rossi said: “Mario and his tabloids issue? Ask him.
“I don’t know if he’s bothered, or maybe he is just feeding them too much.
“Of course, sometimes, he commits some mistakes off the pitch. But it’s his responsibility.
“He simply has to accept the manager’s decision.”
De Rossi all but admitted playing Balotelli on Sunday would be a gamble from a disciplinary point of view.
He said: “He’s a great player, so if he wants to grow, he has to know how to react to this situation.”
England will also have mixed feelings about whether or not they would prefer to face an Italy side spearheaded by Balotelli.
At his very best, he is unplayable, and he showed a glimpse of what he was capable on Monday night.
At his worst, he is a red card waiting to happen, his reaction to scoring against the Republic of Ireland demonstrating he could explode at any time.
So, regardless of whether – or how – he plays, Sunday’s game will probably end up being all about Mario Balotelli.