Early Doors

Balotelli sticks boots into critics – but will it backfire on him?

Mario Balotelli, it seems, is not happy. The striker moved back home to Italy earlier this year not just for football reasons, but to also try and quell the constant media coverage about his weird and wonderful life.

You know the sort of thing we're talking about: the story that he threw a suitcase at Roberto Mancini, the tale about him chucking darts at youth team players "because I was bored", the yarns about having his car impounded 27 times and then filled with rotting fish. Not that all the reports were bad: there was also the time he dished out £1,000 to a tramp, the moment he confronted a young fan's bullies to show them the error of their ways, and the occasion he paid for a new school to be built in the Sudan.

The problem is that while many of those stories have some truth in them, many also do not, as Early Doors once pointed out at length.

Yet alongside all those wacky stories, he remains a fine footballer who has earned plaudits for his play that have taken him to the highest level of fame for all the right reasons: we named him the 25th best footballer in Europe this summer, Time magazine called him one of the 100 most influential people on the face of the planet, and the Pope grants him incredibly rare private audiences.

But those rancorous headlines still seem to hurt, and with Balotelli's AC Milan struggling in the Italian top flight this season the media in Europe's favourite boot-shaped country have been merciless in attacking the £19 million striker.

And Balotelli's latest answer to those fierce newspaper headlines is typically unique: he got his kit makers to create a one-off pair of boots covered in some of the many headlines that he's made over the past few years. "Super Mario", "Bye Bye Germania" (after his match-winning display in the Euro 2012 semi-final) and the incomparable "Why Always Me?" shirt headline were three of the choice picks that made the cut.

The boots were unveiled on Monday night in a match against title-hopefuls Roma, where presumably the idea was to try and use the boots to get him fired up for a big match. It didn't work out too well: Milan drew 2-2 with Balotelli failing to get on the scoresheet.

Still, there is an obvious silver lining: the boots made sure that few people bothered reporting on the match itself but instead concentrated on the striker's footwear, so if he ever gets another pair made he'll have a whole load of new headlines to choose from.

Balotelli is far from the first sports star to hit back at critics in his own unique style - and worryingly for the 23-year-old, the results don't always go well.

Just a few weeks ago England cricket Stuart Broad turned up to a press conference with a newspaper tucked up under his arm - the same newspaper that had refused to print Broad's name over accusations that he had cheated during the summer Ashes series by refusing to walk off when clearly out. The less said about the rest of the series, the better.

Back in the 1990s there were two great examples from the world of football: Robbie Fowler and Gazza. They responded to lurid tabloid stories by respectively pretending to "snort" the byline as if it was a massive line of cocaine, and lying back on the ground to let team-mates squirt water in his mouth in a memorable recreation of a drinking game dubbed the "dentist's chair".

Both came after goals - in Gazza's case, one of the finest goals of his career, against Scotland at Euro '96 - but neither proved good omens.

Fowler's line snort came in 1999; he lost his place in Liverpool's starting line-up the year after, and was never again a major figure at the club.

For Gazza, the goal made it seem as if he was back to his best - but it was it was in fact the opposite. It proved the last flash of brilliance in a frustrating career, and he never again scored a meaningful goal in an England shirt.

Even golf has its example in Nick Faldo's victory speech after winning The Open at Muirfield in 1992, during which he said, "I'd like to thank the press from the heart of my bottom."

Needless to say, the media hated it - even if most other people found it quite funny. And his arrogance seemed justified: it was the fifth Major victory for the Englishman, his third in three years, and came in an incredible run of results in which he finished in the top four of 12 tournaments in a row. Yet that turned out to be Faldo's last season at the top of the sport, and even his later 1996 Masters victory only came out of the blue and thanks mostly to an epic collapse by Greg Norman.