Balotelli and El Shaarawy give Azzurri ‘foreign’ look
Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy, sons of immigrants, are the new faces of Italy. And the AC Milan forwards will be leading the attack for the Azzurri at the Confederations Cup.
Balotelli, 22, and the 20-yearold El Shaarawy form the youngest forward partnership of any elite national team. And while they haven’t played together much with Italy yet, the pairing helped Milan qualify for next season’s Champions League after Balotelli was acquired from Manchester City in January.
El Shaarawy tied for third in Serie A with 16 goals and Balotelli scored 12 in only 13 appearances.
Perhaps even more significant is the image of players born to foreigners representing a country ill at ease with its growing immigrant population.
Balotelli was born in Sicily to Ghanaian immigrants before being adopted by an Italian family. El Shaarawy, who was born in the Ligurian town of Savona to an Italian mother and Egyptian father, is nicknamed “Il Faraone” – “The Pharaoh.”
Balotelli has repeatedly been the target of racist chants during Serie A matches and sometimes during national team games, too. “They say that football is combatting racism, but it doesn’t seem so to me looking at the rules,” Balotelli said.
“Racism is a real problem here and it needs to be combated with more determination. I don’t know if we’ll ever win the battle but we’ve all got to try to [achieve that] together.”
Balotelli couldn’t play for Italy’s youth teams because he could not apply for Italian citizenship until he was 18, according to a law that Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge – Italy’s first black cabinet minister – is attempting to change. After making his debut for the full national team in 2010, he has eight goals in 22 international appearances.
El Shaarawy gained prominence in the first half of the Serie Aseason and was the league’s top scorer at the season’s mid-point with 14 goals, but struggled in the second half of the season.
“It’s not true that he’s tired,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. “Our data says exactly the opposite – that he’s one of the players in the best form.
“Evidently at the end of the season he had a mental drop-off. So many people said he was tired that in the end he convinced himself that he was tired, too.