Mario Balotelli has been named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world for 2013. The list has previous included the likes of Lionel Messi and Didier Drogba, but 22-year-old Balotelli is the only footballer to be named this year and one of four athletes along with LeBron James, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn and tennis player Li Na.
Chelsea legend and Watford manager Gianfranco Zola, who coached Balotelli for a bit of his time with Italy's U-21 team, wrote the blurb that accompanied Mario's inclusion in the "icons" section of the list. Zola says:
From afar, people may think he’s a madman, but he isn’t. Mario is a lovely guy, very humble and very funny. I can assure people he has always been a pleasure to deal with. He has returned to Italy from England as the main man with lots of attention. Now he has to ensure he keeps control and keeps focus. Mario loves the pressure, but to succeed, it is about finding balance.
The combination of Balotelli's developing brilliance on the pitch mixed with his innate ability to produce captivatingly odd moments (be it with a bib or fireworks in his bathroom) and the many strange myths dreamed up by the press have definitely made him one of the world's most scrutinized footballers. He's also been forced into the center of the fight for racial equality and subjected to vile abuse within the game since he was teenager. But to call him one of the most influential people in the world seems a bit speculative. Though there probably hasn't been a run on camouflage Bentleys since Balotelli started driving his, he does have a firm hold on the footballing world's attention. And as Zola alludes, it will be Balotelli's focus and control that determines what he does with it.
One person who isn't surprised about Balotelli's inclusion in the list is his eccentric agent, Mino Raiola. From Football Italia:
“I am not remotely surprised,” Mino Raiola told Sky Sport Italia. “Time saw something in him that many are unable to see.
“He can influence men, women, children. Mario can influence Italy in various different ways, starting from the issue of racism that can be fought.
“He is a perfectly normal young man, but it’s clear there have been important responsibilities on his shoulders since he was 16 years old.”
Balotelli will attend a presentation ceremony in New York on April 22. He previously appeared in Time Magazine for a cover story last year.