Sports, and a little closer to home with the Premier League, seems to be the perfect breeding ground (or battleground, whichever suits you) for the ‘flawed genius.’ It’s difficult to swat away the ideas of Mario Balotelli lighting something on fire, or Nicklas Bendtner stumbling out of a night club at an unholy hour with his jeans around his ankles. It’s also no surprise then that both of these players, among many others, considered themselves to be geniuses at work, slowly plotting their course to the top of the mountain but with plenty of, well, fireworks.
Will players such as Balotelli ever be considered geniuses in the sense that Lionel Messi is a player of unnatural ability, or that Xavi Hernandez scans a football pitch, slows down the game and finds the perfect pass from a host of excellent options? Probably, sometimes, but maybe not in the same way. The flawed side of the phrase is more appropriate, as even with their excellent abilities on the pitch, there’s always something that makes you realise you’ve had enough of their personal show.
In much the same way that Lemmy Kilmister, Nikki Sixx, Ozzy Osbourne and various others would be dead by now were it not for the business of rock music, footballers, and specifically the ‘flawed geniuses,’ need the game to keep them propped up.
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It’s the glamour of the game and the high-profile club backing that fuels their need to be a little louder than the next person. Mario Balotelli rolling into Manchester City HQ with a car covered in army camouflage was as ridiculous as it was predictable. You laugh when you see the Italian coming up with ideas like that, you shake your head in a manner balancing disbelief and unenthused acceptance when he lights rockets inside his bathroom. Were the ambassadors of the game to do similar—Iker Casillas, Clarence Seedorf etc—we’d be stunned, embarrassed and wondering where we’ve ended up.
Needless to say, it’s very easy for these ‘geniuses’ to enter a football arena and become heroes due wholly to their very nature. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s overhead kick will never be forgotten, partly because of how spectacular it was but also because the player is one of those characters who has come to help write the recent history of the game. He’s someone you always associate with being a winner, someone who finds success, riches and everything that comes with it wherever he goes, but also because he doesn’t see the need to buy his partner a birthday gift as she already has Zlatan.
It’s one of this things where football needs these players and these players need football. They draw attention, play a role in making the game a little edgier, while never totally losing a section that can’t help but show them support and backing. Football is a product that has been made more interesting both on and off the pitch by characters who are too dangerous to be set loose with piles of cash in their pockets, but you do it anyway for the joy of seeing the irrational and spontaneous behaviour of these footballers.
Players like Roy Keane, Paolo Di Canio and Eric Cantona know how to lead the charges in a way that few others can. They’re equipped with the brilliance to back up their proud stance in the game, but the football pitch remains the perfect setting to unleash their fiery talent. They’re in it for the football and the glory, but they also need that other side that comes with it.
It doesn’t always have to be glamour, money and women, but some of their desires and actions could not be done if they weren’t on the books of a major football club.