Italian soccer star Mario Balotelli, who scored twice against Germany to lead the Azzuri into the final against Spain, grew up as the foster son of a Jewish mother in the village of Concesio, east of Milan.
Balotelli, 21, dedicated the two goals he scored in Italy’s 2-1 semifinals victory over Germany on June 28 to his foster mother, Silvia, who raised him from the age of three. Newspapers and websites ran a dramatic photo of Balotelli tearfully embracing her after the match.
An article on Moked, the website of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, called the embrace “an emotion for all Italians and a special emotion for Italian Jews.”
Balotelli revealed the fact that his adoptive mother was Jewish in early June, when, like other teams, the Italian national squad visited Auschwitz ahead of the start of the games.
Radio Netherlands reported that during the visit, Balotelli sat down, all by himself, on the train tracks and stared silently ahead. “A while later,” the report said, “he tells his teammates about a box of letters that his Jewish adoptive mother kept underneath her bed. He had never told anyone.”
The white supremacist website Stormfront attacked Balotelli, who is black, with vicious racist and antisemitic insults.
“He’s black and Jewish he should play for Israel not Italy,” wrote one person.
Balotelli was born Mario Barwuah to Ghanaian immigrant parents in Palermo, Italy. He suffered from health problems as a small child and eventually his financially strapped parents placed him in the care of Francesco and Silvia Balotelli.
A writer in the Italian Jewish monthly Pagine Ebraiche called Balotelli “the symbol of the commitment that brings together the experience of immigration, of acceptance and of success. But [he is] also a tribute to his adoptive mother, the Italian Jew who welcomed the child and whose family suffered during the dark years of the Shoah.”
According to Ynet, the Balotellis have relatives in Israel and their daughter studied at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
When he became successful as a soccer player, his biological parents sought to re-enter his life, but Balotelli rejected them as “glory hunters,” the Times of Israel reported.
Despite his health issues, at age 15 Balotelli became the youngest player ever to play in Italy’s third division. He later played for Inter Milan before moving to England to play for Manchester City, where he won the Premier League title this past season.
A volatile personality who has been red-carded four times in the Premier League to go along with 21 yellow cards, he reportedly was also wearing out his welcome with the Italian side.
Some reports suggest that the abuse he faces because of his background prompt some of the behavior. Radio Netherlands reported that, “Irish fans during the Euro 2012 match made monkey noises when he entered the pitch.”
Nevertheless, Balotelli came up big in the game against Germany, and later he described the win as “the most wonderful night of my life so far.”
According to The Times of Israel, he dedicated the goals to his mother, who had come from Italy to watch him play.
“At the end of the game when I went to my mother, that was the best moment. I told her these goals were for her. I waited a long time for this moment, especially as my mother is not young anymore and can’t travel far, so I had to make her happy when she came all the way here.”