In an exclusive report, English newspaper Daily Mail reveals how Ghanaian immigrant father Thomas Barwuah lost his child Mario Barwuah, who is now called Mario Balotelli.
Inside Thomas and Rose Barwuah’s third-floor council flat above a row of shops in Bagnolo Mella, on the outskirts of Brescia in northern Italy, photographs of their family adorn the walls.
There are pictures of their four children — Abigail, 22, Mario, 19, Enoch, 17, and Angel, 11. But it is Mario who takes centre stage. There are photos of him as a baby and then a toddler growing up in the Sicilian city of Palermo, kicking a football, in a suit at a family party and play-fighting with brother Enoch as Rose looks on.
But Mario is no longer a Barwuah. He has taken the surname of his adopted family, Balotelli. The toddler has grown up into an Inter Milan striker and Champions League winner valued at around £29million.
The player they call ‘Super Mario’ claims his natural parents abandoned him when he was two years old. The grainy images in the Barwuahs’ humble flat in Bagnolo Mella, a sleepy town of terracotta buildings, haphazard cobbled streets and a population of just 13,000, are therefore the only connection they have with their eldest son.
Mr Barwuah picks up a picture of a three-year-old Mario holding a football. It was taken at a friend’s home in Vicenza, a 90-minute drive from Bagnolo Mella.
‘Mario had spent hours playing football in the rain,’ said Mr Barwuah. ‘When the boys came in they were soaked but they were laughing and joking despite being wet. My friend said to Mario, “You really are Super Mario”. It’s the name we gave him.’
Mr Barwuah — a ‘poor metal worker’, as he puts it — is a proud man. But the strain on his face is obvious when he says Balotelli has only invited him to one Inter match in four years, the 2-1 Champions League win over Chelsea in February. Even then it was a second-hand invitation and a match in which Balotelli only played the last 32 minutes.
MARIO BALOTELLI (RIGHT) WHEN HE WAS 3 YLD . PICTURED IN BRESCIA WITH THE SON OF HIS REAL FATHERS FRIEND ON THE DAY THEY CALLED HIM SUPER MARIO FOR THE FIRST TIME
‘He turned up one day with four tickets and he gave them to his brother, Enoch,’ said Mr Barwuah. ‘I asked if I could come and watch and he said that Enoch had the tickets and he could do what he wanted with them.
‘He has never remembered us. Not a birthday or Christmas, nothing. He is not the same boy I knew when he was younger — always laughing and smiling. He was trouble but in a good way.’
Trouble, it seems, has followed Mario Balotelli throughout his turbulent 19-year life.
Born to Ghanaian immigrants Rose and Thomas on August 12, 1990, in Palermo, the future athlete was in and out of hospital as a baby. Mr Barwuah was forced to find work away from home and shuttled back and forth every weekend on a 12-hour overnight train.
Mrs Barwuah was left at home with two young children — Abigail and Mario. Life was hard, to say the least.
Mr Barwuah said: ‘There were complications with Mario’s intestines and he was in a bad way. The doctors were worried that he would not survive and we even had him baptised in hospital in case he died.
MARIO BALOTELLI GAINING HIS ITALIAN CITIZENSHIP ON HIS 18th BIRTHDAY 03.08.08. PICTURED WITH HIS ADOPTED/FOSTER PARENTS SILVIA AND FRANCESCO BALOTELLI.
‘For a year we were frantic with worry that he would not live. He was our first-born son and we were so proud when he was born, but we were left facing the prospect he
Mario’s condition improved by the spring of 1992 and the family moved to Brescia, a wealthy industrial city with a rich vein of factories and industries looking for workers.
At first they lived in a cramped studio flat with another African family before asking social services for help, pointing out Mario had recently recovered from an operation.
Social workers suggested Mario should be fostered. They proposed Francesco and Silvio Balotelli, who already had two sons and a daughter of their own.
The Balotellis, a white Italian family, lived in a large house in Concesio, an affluent town six miles north of Brescia. They could offer two-year-old Mario a lifestyle of which Mr Barwuah and his wife could only dream.
Mr Barwuah said: ‘At first we were not sure but we decided it was probably best for Mario. We saw him every week and we all got on really well.
‘We thought that at some point, once things had sorted out, Mario would come back to us. But instead, every time we tried to get him back, the Balotellis kept extending the foster time.’
Mr Barwuah said the family initially agreed to a one-year foster placement, which was then extended by a further 12 months. But their eldest son gradually slipped further and further away from them.
‘We couldn’t afford lawyers to fight for us, so Mario grew more and more distant,’ he said.
‘He would come and visit and play with his brothers and sisters but he just didn’t seem to have any time for us, his mother and father.
‘We wanted him back for more than 10 years but, every time we tried, the courts blocked it and as the years passed he became colder towards us. The Balotellis know people and are influential and we could do nothing.’
MARIO BALOTELLI PLAYING FOR A LOCAL SIDE IN BRESCIA AT THE AGE OF 9
Balotelli was never officially adopted but made a conscious decision to turn his back on his Ghanaian heritage. He took the surname of his adopted parents and represented Italy’s Under 21 side.
Perhaps it was the teenager’s way of surviving in the racially charged cauldron of northern Italy, where he was regarded as an outsider.
As his foster mother has said: ‘He was born and raised in Italy but had to suffer the humiliation and hardships of being considered a foreigner.’
In 2008, on his 18th birthday, Balotelli gained Italian citizenship and an Italian identification card — at a ceremony at Concesio’s city hall to which the Barwuahs were
‘We didn’t know anything about that until we saw it on the news,’ said Mr Barwuah. ‘I didn’t even know he had taken the surname Balotelli. I thought he would still have our surname.’
It was also in 2008 that Balotelli claimed during a television interview that his birth parents had abandoned him in a hospital. The footballer had by then found fame at Inter Milan and claimed the Barwuahs were only interested in him for his money.
‘If I didn’t become Mario Balotelli then Mr and Mrs Barwuah would not have cared about me for anything,’ he said.
The accusation is deeply painful for Balotelli’s biological father, but Mr Barwuah’s patience is running out. His response is passionate and exasperated. He knows there is little chance of change now.
Mr Barwuah said: ‘Mario was convinced we had abandoned him in a hospital but that’s just not true. That is the Balotelli family putting something into his head and it really hurts.
‘We have always loved Mario but he has changed. It’s the Balotellis — they have made him turn against us.
‘How can he say we just want to know him for his money? It’s not true. We don’t want any money. We are Christians.
‘Do you know what he has started saying now? That we beat him as a child. It’s a lie. We never touched him. We would never beat him. We gave him all the love we could.
‘We have done nothing wrong. We want more than anything to have our son back but now I think it’s too late.’Mr Barwuah said he saw Mario last month and the striker told
him he would be moving to Manchester. But there will be no family visits to England this season.
Mr Barwuah turns to those family snaps again, much-loved pictures that have been perused thousands of times.
Balotelli playing for a local team at the U16 level
‘Like any father, I wish him well. I was so proud when he joined Inter and I am still proud of him,’ he said.
‘I don’t want anything from him. I just want us to be how we were.
‘We did not leave Mario. Why would we have these pictures of us together?’
His team pose in V-necked yellow football shirts on an Astroturf pitch. A proud supporter behind the camera captures the moment for the family album.
Some of the boys are smiling, or casually draping their arms around their team-mates. But it is the boy with the ball at his feet who draws the eye.
Mario Balotelli’s is the only black face in shot, yet something else sets the future Inter Milan striker apart from his peers. Attitude. The young footballer scowls into the lens, resting an elbow nonchalantly on his knee.
He is a player who has always stood out — in demeanour and ability — both at nine and 19.
Walter Salvioni spotted Balotelli when he was 15 in the junior ranks of third division Italian side AC Lumezzane. Within minutes, the coach was convinced the teenager had the talent to make his senior squad.
The 47-year-old said: ‘I was watching the juniors train and saw Mario on the pitch — after just five minutes I knew I had to have him in the first squad. He was incredible. His touch was fantastic.
‘I went to the junior coach and said, “I’m taking that lad for the first team”. I didn’t know he was only 15 until the coach said, “You can’t, he’s too young”.’
The club’s chairman and the league decided Balotelli could play if Lumezzane got a doctor’s certificate to say he was fit. ‘Within 24 hours he was with us,’ said Salvioni.
‘He spent a day training with the first team and then he was on the coach with us
for the match in Genoa.
‘They were up near the top and we were third from bottom, but we ended up winning 1-0. Mario came on for the last 30 minutes and won the corner from which we scored the winner.’
That was in 2005. Balotelli soon outgrew the club, earning an ultimately unsuccessful trial with Barcelona before joining Inter Milan in 2006.
Salvioni said: ‘Mario is an all-round talented player. He can beat his opponents for pace and skill and he is very physical. The few months he was with me, I was very impressed with him.’
But the prodigiously talented youngster could sometimes irritate Salvioni. ‘He was always rushing away after training and wouldn’t stay for any tactics,’ said the coach.
‘I confronted him. He smiled and said, “I have to go home to study”. In the end, he confessed he was going to play five-a-side with his friends.’
But the boy Salvioni knew was not the trouble-maker who is talked about today. He was arrogant, but just wanted to play football.
‘He was always very polite,’ said Salvioni. ‘When he isn’t picked he gets angry because he knows he is good enough to play. I think that’s what has made him go to
Manchester City. He told me a few times he got on really well with (Roberto) Mancini, and he will play him.
‘What Mario really wants is to be picked for the Italian national team. That is his dream.’
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