The executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe believes the troubled 24-year-old could transform attitudes in his homeland by lighting up the Premier League
By Liam Twomey
Mario Balotelli could change the culture of racism that exists in Italian football “single-handedly” if he manages to turn around his career at Liverpool, according to Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) executive director Piara Powar.
Balotelli joined Liverpool from AC Milan in a €20 million deal this summer after a frustrating season at San Siro which saw him frequently criticised in the media for below-par performances and subjected to vitriolic racist abuse on more than one occasion.
Italian football’s ongoing issues with discrimination surfaced once again on Tuesday with the news that Football Federation (FIGC) chief Carlo Tavecchio is refusing to resign despite being banned for six months by Uefa for referring to African players as “banana eaters” during his election campaign.
Balotelli, meanwhile, has so far failed to shine at Anfield, scoring just once in his first eight appearances and drawing fresh condemnation in the British press for a perceived lack of effort on the pitch.
But Powar believes that the 24-year-old’s status as the most talented Italian footballer of his generation means he could go a long way towards changing attitudes in his homeland if he lights up the Premier League.
“Balotelli has become somebody who is beaten quite regularly in the Italian media, and part of the context of that is definitely racial,” Powar told Goal at the Leaders Sport Business summit at Stamford Bridge. “There’s no question [about that].
“If Balotelli can turn it around and be very successful at Liverpool, he could change Italy or significantly contribute to changing Italy single-handedly. As it is, he’s been put in a very difficult position.
“Balotelli left [Milan] for a number of reasons. He, like a lot of the Italy squad, had a bad World Cup but the backlash was even worse [for him].
“[Kevin-Prince] Boateng was also very clear about how unhappy he was in Italy, and there are other players who could have gone to Italy to finish their careers – like [Didier] Drogba and [Samuel] Eto’o – but they choose not too.
“It’s more interesting and more comfortable for them in other places, and I think part of that is about race.”