Garry Birtles: Mad Mario needs to make sure he is not still asking 'why?' in ten years
WHEN I look at Mario Balotelli, I feel nothing but sadness and regret.
Not just for the Italian, but for a large portion of modern footballers in general.
Roberto Mancini, David Platt and dozens of other people at Manchester City did everything they could to help the striker settle in; to help him fulfil his potential.
But they were facing a losing battle from the start.
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'Why always me?' he once asked. Well, Mario, it was probably because of all the stupid, misguided and crazy decisions you made along the way.
There were plenty of people who tried to help him; to guide him down the right path.
And it is not as if he was working a dull job in an office or signing on, is it?
He is playing football and earning millions of pounds for doing so.
It is not a hard life. Yes, you find yourself in the spotlight. And perhaps that was part of the problem. Because he did spend too much time acting like he was a superstar; like he had made it.
He hadn't. He was – and is – a young player with potential. He has ability, he can be very good.
But he is a long way off fulfilling that potential and he never will do, unless he changes his attitude.
Yes, when you have millions of pounds in your bank account, it must be hard not to feel like you have made it; like you are something special.
That is where too many modern footballers fall down.
They forget, too quickly, what got them there, what made them stand out in the crowd.
They forget they are footballers and take on a celebrity demeanour.
I have never forgotten how lucky I was. I still live close to the council estate I grew up on.
I sometimes take a walk and look at my old house, at the football pitches I first played on with Attenborough Colts.
I would give anything to relive those days again.
And, having worked on a building site in the freezing cold, I also appreciated how lucky I was to be a footballer.
I think that is lost on a lot of the young men fortunate enough to tread the same path.
Once the money starts to come in, they do start to think they have made it.
And I think they lose a little of their love for the game. Other things become more important – like your celebrity status.
I love people like Gary Neville, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and even John Terry.
Because they all have a real passion for the game.
Neville probably doesn't need to do his TV work, financially speaking.
But you suspect he just wanted to be involved, to continue playing a part in the game he loved.
And I despair for Lampard, who looks like he will be kicked out of Chelsea, when he desperately wants to stay.
I don't understand the logic of that. He can still do a job – and I can guarantee there will be other players at Stamford Bridge who do not care half as much as he does . . . asides from when it comes to collecting their wages.
Give Lampard a contract. You need leaders in football. You need people who care.
Terry does not strike as you as a particularly nice bloke off the field. He is probably not somebody you would invite round for tea.
But I would love to have him playing in a team alongside me.
Because, whatever you think about him as a person away from football, he gets it.
He understands that it is a privilege to be playing football and you know he gives his all every time he steps out on to the pitch.
In the meantime, I hope Balotelli's return to Italy, with AC Milan, helps him.
I hope the penny drops – I hope he realises how fortunate he is.
Forget the flash cars, the bling, the women, the having a crafty cigarette and the Champagne lifestyle.
And remember this, Mario. You could be a very good footballer or you could be a man who continues to make all the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Be a footballer and make sure you love and cherish every moment.
Make sure that, in 20 years time, you can look back on what you have done with pride, not with regret.
Forget about setting off fireworks in your bathroom and start igniting a few on the pitch.