Holidays are a rare commodity for soccer players. In terms of time at the very least, because with seasons ending late May, Summer championships and/or club teams’ exotic tours extending into June, and pre-season training camps starting mid-July, athletes usually have no more than 2-3 weeks in order to don some flip flops and stroll down to the beach (thereby making the fortune of paparazzis and their holiday snapshots). Not that they won’t have plenty of time later in life, when they retire at age 34 with multimillion dollar bank accounts, but I digress…
Anyways, because it’s such a rare commodity (and because they can afford it), soccer stars usually aim quite high when choosing their holiday destinations, opting for super-luxurious resorts or trendy hot spots (like Formentera and Porto Cervo for Serie A players). Predictable and boring, right? Mario Balotelli on the other hand had more exciting plans this Summer. Kudos to him.
[Source: Gazzetta dello Sport (paper edition), July 14, 2008, article by Massimo Arcidiacono. Also available online (in Italian) here]
While his Inter teammates and Serie A colleagues travelled to Formentera and Porto Cervo, “Turbo” Mario Balotelli followed his heart and… WWF. Nope, not the wrestling federation (which changed their name to WWE, to avoid any confusion with the other one), but the actual World Wildlife Fund. Destination Sicily and more specifically the “Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro“, a natural park reserve that also turns into an adventure camp. For Mario, that meant 10 days of excursions into nature and deep sea diving, an experience which the young Inter striker already tested the previous year, with excellent memories.
“I liked the idea of spending a vacation out of the ordinary, with boys and girls my age” explains Balotelli. “I went with the WWF last year and enjoyed it a lot, so together with a few friends I met last year we decided to repeat the experience“. The groups are composed by two supervisors and 15-17 year-old kids, “united by their passion of nature and thirst of adventure” says Fabrizio Giacalone, manager of the WWF camps in Sicily. “Mario? He’s just a normal kid, like all the others“. A “normal kid” indeed, although the defenders of Atalanta, Siena, or Fiorentina will surely have a very different opinion. Gazzetta interviewed the young Italo-Ghanaian striker at his return from camp.
Soccer players usually go to Costa Smeralda during the Summer. Mario, your choice went countercurrent to usual trends.
It’s an experience I recommend to all young people my age. I don’t really care what other players are doing, I am Mario and Mario makes his own choices. Countercurrent you say? Probably because the trend is to go places where all other VIPs go, but I would rather stay away from the masses. I prefer uncontaminated, “wild” locations: it’s better to have peace and quiet when you’re holiday, and perhaps have experience something different once in a while. Besides, you’re talking to someone who’s been in the junior scouts when he was little: we played, we learned to respect nature and people, to live in a group and without too many material things. Just like the WWF camp: we couldn’t drink Coke or iced tea when we were there, just water. We carried a bottle in our backpacks which we refilled every time. Plus we couldn’t use TV, playstation, or cell phones.
Did you go with your girlfriend?
No, I went alone. There was a “special” girl there though, but that’s all I’m gonna say.
Ok you’re right, let’s talk about other things. You went to Sicily: what has this land, so full of contradictions, left you with?
It left me with its colors. Blue from the sky and the sea, yellow and green from the vegetation. Also the strong tastes of Sicilian dishes, like walnut granitas, cassatelles and cannolis… mmmmh those are good! And I’ll never forget the night dip in the warm water of Segesta. So warm in fact that I stayed inside for nearly an hour and almost felt sick when I got out. Plus the dives from the tall and rocky coastline, which almost felt easier than going for a walk under the midnoon sun at the “Zingaro”.
We were informed that when it was time to come back, you cancelled your flight home and returned by train with all the other kids. The naturalist experience really left its mark on you huh?
That’s true, I came back by train with the rest of the group. You have to live certain experiences to their fullest, all together. At first you might be a little shy, but after the team acclimatization period (just like in a soccer team) it’s great. And you enjoy it even more after that.
In a month’s time (August 12) you’ll finally be an adult. When you get your driver’s license, will you buy a nice SUV just like the other players and say “Take that, WWF!”?
I don’t know any SUVs, in Sicily I was only a sub (note: in Italian, SUV is pronounced Suv, and sub means scuba-diver).
Good one, 1-0 for Mario. By the way, do you confirm that you’ll choose Italian nationality? You didn’t receive a phone call from Casiraghi or Mourinho while you were in Sicily, by any chance?
I waited for August 12 this Summer for years. I will get Italian nationality because I AM Italian. Italy is the country where I was born, where I studied and where I learned to play soccer. The language I speak is Italian and my family is Italian. It’s only because of a stupid law I was forced to live 18 years as a foreigner in my own country. And no, I did not receive any phone calls while I was in Sicily.
I guess they really did take their cell phones…