In the 88th minute of what was already a rout vs. Norwich City, Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli scored a goal to make it 4-1 for the league leaders (Adam Johnson added another a few minutes later for good measure). It was a meaningless goal, but nothing Balotteli does is ever without import, so it's worthy of some consideration.
If for some reason you can't watch the video above, Balotelli took a pass from Johnson at the goalmouth, was stonewalled by very British-named Norwich keeper John Ruddy, sought out the rebound right near the goal line, and bumped it in with his right shoulder. It was a cute, arguably insulting way to score, because a more prudent player would have played it in off his head (as if a game that arbitrarily doesn't allow participants to touch the ball with their arms and hands should have a hierarchy of morally upright body parts). The British press and various blogs have responded with the usual round of Balotellian adjectives, adverbs, and phrases: "impishly," "nonchalantly," "outrageous," "again manages to cause a stir," "attention-grabbing," etc.
Balotelli has always been a controversial figure for years, but he has drawn special notice this campaign for his off-field activities, especially an impromptu bathroom-window fireworks party that burned down his house. This goal, as well as his quick two-yellow red card last weekend vs. Liverpool, have reminded everyone that Balotelli is every bit the troublemaker on the field that he is off it – there's really not much difference between his approach to sport and the manner in which he lives his life.
That lack of distinction can seem like something of a put-on – last Monday on the Guardian Football Weekly podcast, Paul MacInnes wondered if he got that red card just to cultivate his bad-boy image – but it also makes Balotelli a surprisingly reassuring figure. In a sporting climate in which Liverpool living saint Steven Gerrard gets in bar brawls, professional captain John Terry sleeps with a teammate's wife (correction: she wasn't Bridge's wife and they were not club teammates at the time), and prototypical English bulldog Wayne Rooney proves so vain as to get hair plugs, Balotelli presents a unified front of ridiculousness. Unlike those other stars, Balotelli exists on the football pitch as he does elsewhere. When he plays, the game isn't an entertainment venue or a space for a parallel reality, but a reflection of the world as experienced on a day-to-day basis.
UPDATE: The new video should work. Hopefully we can find something more permanent soon.