Looking back to look forward: EURO 2012

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Can Mario Balotelli revitalize the Puma football brand?
Mario Balotelli makes headlines; and he did so both on and off the field with his customized boots last week. As AC Milan took on AS Roma, the vain Italian forward marched onto the San Siro wearing white boots covered in newspaper headlines about himself and with no obviously visible boot manufacture.
And no brand dared to own the conversation either.
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The story did not end here. Before another ‘Derby della Madonnina’, Balotelli revealed through Twitter, his new boots and sponsor, with “Why Always PUMA” beaming the headline. This move became possible following the expiration of his previous deal with Nike.

Mario, who all the brands were trying to sign – not just PUMA, is very happy with the move and said: “This is a great move for me. From the early conversations I had with PUMA it was clear that they understand me, my personality and my ambition.”
PUMA’s latest recruit could open up the battle of sports brands ahead of what will be the most marketed World Cup. For a long time, the industry has watched a two-way horse race between German brand adidas and US based Nike, and that’s still likely to be the case. However, Balotelli’s eccentric personality and unpredictable behavior is a the perfect opportunity for PUMA to revamp its brand name and produce headlines through marketing one of modern day’s most talked about footballers.
Staying on the subject of the 2014 World Cup, we can expect Nike to hero both their global key athletes Neymar and Ronaldo, adidas with Messi and now PUMA with their man Balotelli. There are, of course, many other top footballers associated with these brands, but these guys are placed in their own exclusive category.
With both the Italian national team and Balotelli now represented by PUMA, we’re looking forward to a new approach from the brand, high quality video content and an exciting Italian home shirt launch, in line with their main competitors. Previously, PUMA has been below-par with their marketing campaigns, such as the recent Aguero and Bolt speed training video.
PUMA may not possess the sponsorship power of adidas or marketing flair that fuels Nike, but with the addition of Balotelli to their squad and winning the Arsenal sponsorship contract the future for Puma could turn things around. My advice is to break all the rules, go crazy with the Italian superstar and create beyond memorable headlines. He’s the ideal footballer to shoot Puma into the limelight.
It’s a new beginning for the brand and Balotelli. We’ll see you both soon.

This piece was written by our Managing Editor Dominic Vieira. Comments below please.

Can Mario Balotelli revitalize the Puma football brand?

Mario Balotelli makes headlines; and he did so both on and off the field with his customized boots last week. As AC Milan took on AS Roma, the vain Italian forward marched onto the San Siro wearing white boots covered in newspaper headlines about himself and with no obviously visible boot manufacture.

And no brand dared to own the conversation either.

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Through Ryu’s Lens: Milan falls in the Milan Derby

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Brazil awaits for Balotelli and Gli Azzurri

By Anthony Lopopolo, writing from Torino

Think of the madness that is Mario Balotelli – the hair, the cars, the racism. But when he takes a penalty kick, he’s ice-cold. Everything stops. For that moment, no matter its weight, he is serene. So this time, against the Czech Republic’s Petr Cech, Balotelli stepped up to the spot and scored. It was the winning goal, the second of a comeback, but no different than the rest he has taken. It was the goal that won Italy a ticket to Brazil two games ahead of time. It was perfect in an imperfect game.

This is what the kids came to see. They came to see the Azzurri, of course, and they came to see Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, both honoured on Tuesday evening for the record-breaking amount of appearances they have made for the national team. Even on their night, the journalists asked them questions about Balotelli. Another game was his.

All the way at the top of Juventus Stadium, just below the rafters, children no older than 12 or 13 jumped and caroled for the AC Milan striker before the game. In the hymn of the famous French nursery rhyme, Alouette, they sang: “Se saltelli, segna Balotelli! Se saltelli, segna Balotelli!” Meaning, “If you jump, Balotelli scores.” These kids wore the colours of Torino, the burgundy track suits, and the shades of Juventus, white and black. It didn’t mean a thing. No matter the colour of their skin or jersey, Balotelli speaks to the youth of Italy unlike any other athlete.

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Italy: The team that was lost and then found

By Anthony Lopopolo. Photo: Ryu Voelkel

There was Leonardo Bonucci, sitting down on the ground, hands over his knees, wondering. It was his ball that didn’t go in, and only his. His teammates didn’t yell at him. No one really could. After Bonucci booted the ball into the sky from the penalty spot, where this semi-final of the Confederations Cup was decided, Jesus Navas scored the one that won the game for Spain.

Before Bonucci, 12 players came and scored their penalties, all taken well, low and high. It’s not the he cracked under the pressure – after all, Bonucci once punched a petty thief at gunpoint – but that he was the only one who wasn’t perfect. So his teammates tried to console the inconsolable. They gave him a hand and rubbed his head and tried to get him up. “But there are no words that can make a difference in these moments,” Giorgio Chiellini, a teammate and friend, told Rai Sport.

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The Reality of Racism

"He was born in Italy. He grew up two hours from Milan in a little town named Concesio, taken in by a white Italian couple when he was 3 years old. Balotelli’s birth parents are immigrants from Ghana, and although he looks like them, he sounds like his provincial neighbors, speaking with the well-known Brescian accent… An old underground cartoon sums up the local attitude. It shows a deep trench at the edge of Northern Italy, with a clear message: Let’s get rid of the Africans."

Whether through oversight or sheer indifference, there’s a tendency in soccer to minimize the significance of racism. Sure, we constantly see headlines outlining the latest incidents, and of course, there are those journalists, fans and players who refuse to let the issue rest, but for every Kevin-Prince Boateng or Mario Balotelli who makes a stand publicly, there are countless other members of the community who unwittingly rationalize bigotry.

"Those fans aren’t representative of the fan-base." 

"Every community has a few idiots."

"You wouldn’t understand, it’s a cultural issue."

While each of those statements may be true, they nevertheless downplay how each incident is indicative of social trends. Are those Ultras who use Nazi-insignia part of a fringe group outnumbered by the perfectly reasonable members of the fan sections? Of course. Does their willingness to show their political allegiances in the terraces hint at changing cultural realities? Definitely.

Unfortunately, most works on the topic of racism in football begin and end in the stadium, and rely on simple assumptions as explanations. The number of Neo-Nazis in the fan group is small. Let’s ban them from the stadium, and we’ll have fixed the problem. But the problem goes beyond the pitch, into the homes of every ethnic minority who deals with the stresses of discrimination on a daily basis. 

Which is why Wright Thompson’s recent piece investigating the root of racism in Italian soccer is so significant. From sitting with Ultras who still revere Mussolini, cringing under a variety of curse words and Nazi chants thrown towards African players, speaking with Africans stranded in Italy pursuing long impossible careers in soccer, discussing the importance of a new Italian cabinet member, an immigrant from Africa, to the role of nascent political parties and unemployment trends, Thompson tells a complicated story, but one that must be read.

The roots of racism are bubbling to the surface; it’s time we acknowledged them. [Posted by Maxi]

Preparing for a new, better Baloitalia

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By Anthony Lopopolo

No matter what, they always returned to one another. The quarrels, the disbelief, the losses in composure never once compromised this enduring relationship, ruined it beyond repair. Roberto Mancini, the coach of Manchester City, couldn’t stop loving Mario Balotelli. And even though the two will part again, for the second time in five years, they do so only in person, not in spirit, not forever.

Mancini, before watching his side draw with lowly Queens Park Rangers, met with his 22-year-old pupil in a London hotel and most likely cried with him. “It was emotional,” Mancini later said. Like a parent, Mancini did what was best for Mario: he let him go. You could hear in the manager’s voice and in his words, as he tried to rationalize the player’s move to AC Milan with reporters after the match on Tuesday, a sense of regret, perhaps even a little disappointment in himself that he couldn’t raise his student any more.

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Mario, We Hardly Knew Ye - AFR Voice Ep.11

It’s been a magical weekend of FA Cup action, but now the dust has settled, Luton have finished celebrating, and Oldham’s Matt Smith has stopped shoving Martin Skrtel around the penalty area, let the latest of edition of AFR Voice take you through all the highs and lows of what was a truly rollercoaster weekend of fourth round drama.

We’ll be taking a good look at all of the weekend’s big upsets – Oldham dumping out last year’s finalists Liverpool, Brentford holding cup holders Chelsea, Leeds knocking out a much fancied Spurs side, as well as the MK Dons shoving Harry Redknapp back into the transfer window “gang war” in a bid to sign up yet more talent that may (but most probably won’t) keep QPR up.

We’ll also be saying a fond farewell to Mario Balotelli as he heads back to Milan, as well as what to do if a Premier League footballer’s car gets a puncture outside your house, and why unemployed French tutors should get on a train up to Newcastle, and pronto.

Then it’s off around Europe where Lazio are desperately trying to recruit a new ornithological mascot before the January window shuts, Cristiano Ronaldo’s hatrick still isn’t enough to upstage Messi in La Liga, and Zlatan gets a good megging in Ligue 1, before we head down to South Africa to give you an update on all of the happenings at the African Cup of Nations, including the real reason as to Cape Verde are proving to be such high fliers.

As always, you can get in touch with the team by tweeting @AFRvoice or emailing afrvoice@gmail.com. You can also subscribe to AFR Voice on iTunes and find us on Soundcloud.

Through Ryu’s Lens: City disappointment, Chelsea delight

This week’s Champions League action may have temporarily taken a back seat for some due to the battle between FC Romney and Obama United, but the drama wasn’t in short support in politics or football. Ajax (and their thousands of travelling fans) left Mancini enraged and Balotelli disappointed, as Manchester City’s Champions League dream awakened to a rude reality. Chelsea continued to play with an unprecedented level of entertainment at Stamford Bridge, barely edging out Shakhtar Donetsk. Ryu Voelkel made the trip from Berlin to Manchester to London to take it all in.

Interact with Ryu on twitter @Toksuede and check his Flickr. Posted by Eric.

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