Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Battle for Barwuah

The story of young football prodigy, Mario Barwuah Balotelli, has been on the lips of many Ghanaians for the past couple of years. His decision to pledge allegiance to Italy instead of Ghana has earned him more criticism than admiration. Ghanaian football authorities have however not given up on him as they feel his abilities can be of immense benefit to the Black Stars in their quest for laurels. Balotelli has however declined all the offers made to him so far stressing that his loyalty lies with Italy. Although I am of the view that only committed players should be considered for any of our national teams, I believe he will be better off playing for Ghana than Italy. Before I explain why I hold this view, let me give you a brief background on the battle for Barwuah.

Mario Barwuah Balotelli was born in the Italian city of Palermo to Ghanaian immigrants, Thomas and Rose Barwuah. In 1993 when Mario was three, he was entrusted into the care of the Balotelli family due to the inability of his biological parents to adequately cater for his needs. He attained full Italian citizenship when he turned 18 on the 13th of August 2008 as is required by Italian law. By the age of 15, Mario had become a football prospect with his first team, Lumezzane in the Italian third division. Mario shot into the limelight with some impressive displays and this caught the eye of Italian giants Inter Milan who signed him on loan with an option to buy. He made his first team debut on December 16 2007 coming on as a substitute in a 2-0 win over Cagliari. Two days later he scored two goals against Reggina in a 4-1 win and quickly caught the eye of football pundits across the globe.

A tug of war subsequently ensued between his biological and adoptive parents with the former wanting their son back and the latter refusing by saying that they had raised Mario from infancy and nurtured him to stardom. Mario himself was not amused at his biological parent’s request accusing them of “glory hunting”. Mario’s adoptive parents are keen on seeing him turn out for the Italian national team in the near future. His biological parents are on the other hand urging him to play for the Black Stars. The Ghana Football Association (GFA) is also intent on ensuring that the nation does not lose yet another budding star as was the case with Freddy Adu who is now a member of Team USA.
FIFA rules on player eligibility stipulate that any player who is a citizen of one country can choose to feature for another country provided he has a clear connection (a parent) to that country. This rule has benefitted Ghana in the recent past with Dutch under-21 star Quincy Owusu-Abeyie switching allegiance from Holland to Ghana just before the African Cup of Nations held in Ghana early last year. Some other players in similar situations have also declared their intentions of donning the national colours. There is no doubt that due to the affection he feels towards his Italian parents, coupled with the fact that he has lived in Italy his entire life, he feels more inclined to turn out for the Azurris and has made this declaration on more than a few occasions. Some Ghanaian footballers including Black Stars Captain Stephen Appiah and Mario’s Inter Milan team mate Sulley Muntari have tried to intervene on behalf of the GFA but to no avail. But before he eventually makes his decision, Mario needs weigh his options carefully since there would be no turning back. What then should he be taking into consideration?

First he needs to analyze the examples of other Ghanaian footballers who have made similar decisions. One player of note is Gerald Asamoah who features for the German national team. Initially he had a lot of playing time and churned out some impressive displays for them. But by the time the 2002 World Cup had come around, he had to make do with coming off the bench usually after the 80th minute. Playing International football regularly has become a benchmark for many top clubs in Europe and if Mario hopes to command a regular spot in the Inter Milan starting line-up or perhaps join another reputable club one day, then he is better off playing for the Black Stars.
Moreover, some Italian fans are reportedly not too enthused with his desire to feature for the Azurris. Even before he has had the opportunity to don the Italian colours, he has allegedly suffered several incidents of racial abuse at the hands of many Italians who have taunted him with comments such as, “Black Italians don’t exist.” Such incidents are bound to increase if he eventually becomes a member of the team and this could negatively affect his career. Some of his colleague players might even frustrate his efforts of fitting in. He definitely wouldn’t face such problems in Ghana where both fans and players would warmly welcome him as one of their own and give him the support he requires to perform to the best of his ability.

The battle for Barwuah’s international signature is sure to drag on a while longer but I’m sure the dust would have settled by the time South Africa 2010 comes around in July next year. Whether Italy would give him the call-up he is yearning for or he would deem Ghana the more logical option remains to be seen. For now we can only wait with bated breath as he tries to free himself from the tug of war that he is in the middle of. Since the decision ultimately lies with the Italian FA and not Mario himself, it might finally come down to who pulls the hardest; Ghana or Italy. The battle lines have certainly been drawn.

This article was written by LSG Staff Writer Masahoud Codjoe, and published on his blog "Bird's Eye View."

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