Balotelli idolised by Ghanaian family who have never met him
As Italy clinched their place in today’s Euro 2012 final, two-goal hero Mario Balotelli wanted to celebrate with one special person.
Running from the edge of the pitch, he dived into the crowd in the stands to give the woman he calls “Mum” a big hug.
Emotional Mario dedicated his goals to Silvia Balotelli, the woman who brought him up from the age of three.
He said: “I told her, ‘These goals are for you.’ I waited for this moment for so long and I wanted to make my mum happy.”
Just as proud were Mario’s other family – the one he has never met – who were crouched around a TV set watching the action thousands of miles away in Ghana.
Mario was born to Ghanaian immigrants Rose and Thomas Barwuah in Palermo, Sicily.
But health problems led to him being fostered, then adopted, by Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, from Brescia.
Legally, the family separation might be complete but the Barwuah clan in Ghana have kept a close eye on Mario’s career.
Sadly, one family member missed Mario’s finest moment. His grandfather Nana, 74, a retired bus driver, died two weeks ago.
Mario, 21, had planned to visit Ghana for the first time in August to see his grandad and had sent him a baseball cap with his signature embroidered inside as a gift.
But it was not to be. His father Thomas, who still lives in Italy with Rose and their other children, had to make the heartbreaking call to his son to tell him Nana had died aged 74.
The Man City star, whose transfer value has soared to £52million, made no mention of his grandfather’s death in his post-match interviews, preferring to focus on his adoptive family.
But there is no ill feeling from his blood relatives, only congratulations and a hope that he will still make a visit to Ghana.
Alex Barwuah, 30, Mario’s uncle, is a mechanic by trade, earning just £75 per week – a world apart from Balotelli’s reported £120,000-a-week wages.
However, he could not be happier for his famous nephew.
He said: “We are all extremely proud of him. It was wonderful when he scored both goals and we were ecstatic. When he pulled his shirt off after scoring, my friends made me do the same thing. It made me feel closer to him.
“I’m so proud he is part of the family. I feel sad, though, that we have never met and that my father never saw his grandson.
“My father watched every game he could showing Mario and longed to meet him but it was not possible. I hope now Mario comes to see us and gets to learn about his ancestors.”
Alex lives a modest life in Zone Five of the gold mining town of Konongo, which has a population of just 40,000.
With its shacks and dusty roads it is a far cry from the bright lights of Milan and Manchester where Balotelli has plied his trade.
Alex is philosophical about their different lives, saying: “I am very pleased at his success and understand that he is rich now but the professional life of a footballer is an extremely short one.”
On his 18th birthday, Mario gained Italian citizenship and there have been reports that he had turned his back on his Ghanaian heritage. However, the Barwuahs have never stopped following his career.
Kwaku Awuah, Balotelli’s grandfather on his mother’s side, also wants to welcome his grandson “home”.
Kwaku, 80, said: “It’s pathetic to have a superstar as a grandson but to have never set eyes on him. It makes me so sad whenever I see him on TV or read about him in the papers.
“I’m not interested in his money. I just want to tell him to come back to his roots because, as the saying goes, there really is no place like home sweet home.”
Akosua Osaa Barwuah, Mario’s aunt and his father Thomas’s sister, is also upset she has never been able to meet her nephew.
Akosua, 44, a market trader, said: “I feel so sad whenever I see him on TV.
“My brother Thomas sent me Mario’s picture when he was about three. I have a nephew of this calibre and I’ve never set eyes on him.”
In the streets outside the Barwuah family home, children play football wearing shirts from some of Europe’s biggest teams. Everyone in Konongo knows the name Balotelli and his 45 shirt, even though he has never set foot in the country.
And UEFA have confirmed Balotelli had registered his shirt name as “Barwuah Balotelli”, indicating he recognises his roots. But as yet he has not worn a shirt with the name on it.
Balotelli might be a man with a hefty price tag on his head, but he has been in trouble both on and off the pitch.
There’ve been car crashes and trouble with indoor fireworks which forced him to move out of his home.
Man City manager Roberto Mancini has admitted if they had been team-mates he may have hit him.
Now he seems to have got his life on track and he has become a football superstar.
His goals against Germany have made him the bookmakers’ favourite to claim the Euro 2012 Golden Boot accolade.
And he has two families, as well as thousands of fans, wishing him well and roaring him on to glory.