Why always me?
examines how class clown Mario Balotelli is turning the joke on Man City's Premier League rivals.
Last Updated: 25/10/11 8:47am
As Sunday's Manchester derby hurtled into its 22nd minute, Mario Balotelli neatly rolled home the opener of what would eventually end in a 6-1 City success to spark a host of firework puns across the country.
The controversial Italian might have graced the back pages for all the wrong reasons earlier that day after allegedly setting fire to his house by letting off pyrotechnics in the bathroom, but it was a different story 24 hours later after he inspired Manchester City's biggest victory at neighbours United in 22 years.
The mohawked youngster's claims made late last week that he is "growing up" appeared premature following the blaze at his mansion in the early hours of Saturday morning.
But the 21-year-old is certainly growing on the pitch - or at least letting us in on the talent which prompted Roberto Mancini to snare him from Inter Milan last summer.
Balotelli's adjustment to life in Manchester has not been a smooth one.
While his debut season at City had some bright moments but hardly set the Premier League alight, the madcap striker has still managed to keep his often sullen face in the tabloids with a string of eccentric exploits away from the game.
Car crashes, links with the Italian mafia, training ground bust-ups, grass allergies and an apparent inability to dress himself (those who have not witnessed the 'Bibotelli' incident should head to YouTube immediately) all put his footballing ability in the shade during his first 12 months at City.
However, Balotelli now appears to be making a perfectly scheduled emergence just as Mancini's leaders tighten their chokehold on the standings and gear up a bid to achieve much-hyped domestic dominance.
Having already announced his presence this season by scoring in his last three Premier League encounters, the Italian was out for blood at Old Trafford and proved a constant tormentor to United's beleaguered backline as Sir Alex Ferguson's men crashed to humiliation.
Balotelli neatly broke the deadlock after a short period of United dominance in the first half, tucking a low drive into the bottom corner of David De Gea's net from a James Milner cross with ease.
But it was his celebration that made the strike a memorable one, with the 'Why Always Me?' message emblazoned on his vest when he lifted his shirt providing an impeccably-timed moment of self-deprecating humour made only more amusing by the trademark petulant expression on his face.
Referee Mark Clattenburg failed to see the funny side, promptly handing the striker a booking, and I doubt I was the only one wondering whether Balotelli would repeat the offence and earn himself an early bath when he notched his second after the break - a tap-in at the far post after positioning himself perfectly to meet another Milner assist.
Perhaps the fact that he refrained showed there is something to his claims of new-found maturity and the striker, having also won the foul that led to Jonny Evans' sending off and triggered the capitulation of the home side, left the pitch peaceably in a 70th-minute substitution having executed a job well done.
Balotelli might on occasions wander the pitch looking so uninterested he could be mulling over what's for tea, but his display in Sunday's derby proved that a bad attitude does not necessarily equal a bad performance.
When the striker puts his mind to it he is a force to be reckoned with, demonstrating on Sunday moments of slick skill and spurts of blistering pace that left United's centre-half duo Evans and Rio Ferdinand tired and red-faced.
Mancini was so enamoured by the Italian's display in his post-match presser he branded him one of the world's top-five players, backing his talent to eventually reach the dizzying heights of superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
While it remains to be seen whether that assessment was a result of the tactician's post-victory euphoria, there is no denying that Balotelli is shrugging off his status as a joke figure at Ethiad Stadium and emerging as one of the top-flight's most dangerous frontmen.
The youngster is by no means the first footballer to add weight to the theory that eccentricity can come hand-in-hand with genius.
You only have to look at the long line of controversial stars before him, with Eric Cantona and Gazza springing to mind, to realise that the Italian's bizarre disposition could be a blessing rather than a curse.
Perhaps Balotelli gets a wry enjoyment from the bafflement that resonates when the player who donned that cockerel plumed hat coolly slams home a double in one of the campaign's biggest blockbuster showdowns so far.
Mancini summed it up perfectly post-match when he explained: "He is crazy but I love him as a guy. Maybe if you take away that part of him it might take something away from him as a player."
Balotelli's nutty off-field escapades are almost certain to continue, but the odd premature Bonfire Night celebration in his mansion or attempted prison break-in will be laughed off by Mancini, the fans and the red-tops - as long as the hitman continues to prove there is a method to his madness.