MANCHESTER CITY have delighted in confounding expectations this season but last night sprung a surprise equal even to their 6-1 demolition of Manchester United when they unveiled Mario Balotelli as the face of a firework safety campaign.
Striker Balotelli, no stranger to controversy throughout his short career, was forced to flee his Cheshire home in the early hours of Saturday morning after it was set ablaze by someone lighting fireworks in the bathroom.
The 20-year-old Italian yesterday broke his silence on the incident to deny culpability and blame friends for the inferno – as well as urging amateur pyrotechnicians everywhere to exercise greater care.
“The newspapers got the story wrong about me and the fire at my house. I didn’t set any fireworks off, it was a friend of mine. I didn’t know anything about it until I heard the shouting coming from the bathroom,” said Balotelli.
“Luckily, nobody was injured, and my friend apologised to me for the damage to my house. It was a really stupid thing for him to do, someone could have been really hurt, and I was really, really angry with him about it. It is an important message that children should not mess with fireworks. They can be very dangerous if they are not used in the right way. People should follow the firework code.”
Balotelli celebrated the first of his two goals in Sunday’s seismic Manchester derby by lifting his shirt to reveal another top bearing the slogan: ‘Why always me?’, and yesterday hinted at the meaning behind the message. “I did it for many reasons, but I’ll leave it for other people to figure out what it means,” he said. “I’m sure people can work it out.”
It has been seen as a tongue-in-cheek nod to his catalogue of colourful incidents, which at City alone has included a club fine for throwing darts at youth team players, being substituted for attempting a backheel when through on goal and wearing a glove-shaped hat.
Controversy aside, Balotelli believes the thrashing of neighbours and Premier League champions United has put down a marker.
“This win and this performance showed everyone that we can be the best,” he said. “At the moment we play well every week, but the derby was special.”