x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A team's plan comes together

I would not be surprised to learn that the "fireworks incident" at Balotelli's home was caused by an attempt to create a cabbage-firing cannon.

At this festive time of year in England, it is great to see Premier League footballers willing to make fools of themselves by donning ridiculous outfits.

No, not the gold boots, diamond earrings and silly tattoos - that is standard "business attire" all season, unfortunately.

I'm talking about the growing trend for clubs to throw wacky, fancy-dress Christmas parties.

Liverpool lead the pack. In 2008, Steven Gerrard memorably dressed as a decrepit old man, complete with mobility scooter. Three years and many injuries later, he could do the same without hiring a costume.

This year's show-stoppers were the Manchester City players, who did not let their first league defeat of the season, by Chelsea, dampen their desire for dress-up.

Sergio Aguero posed as the schoolboy wizard Harry Potter, which seems appropriate for a magical player who lives in fear of tall, menacing figures who drain all joy from whatever they touch. Or, as Dementors are known in football, "Stoke City".

Gareth Barry turned up as Wally, of the Where's Wally cartoon books. Barry is a slightly bland chap who is often hard to spot. As is Wally.

Owen Hargreaves went as Batman, a wealthy recluse who yearns for action but is rarely seen during the day. I wonder what made him think of that.

And Adam Johnson dressed as a long-haired, tie-dyed 1960s hippie.

All together now: "If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. Although most players have gone bald by the time they sign for an MLS club."

Perhaps the most controversial outfit, however, was that of the Dutch midfielder, Nigel de Jong. He dressed as BA Baracus, star character of the 1980s television show The A-Team.

Superficially, that makes sense. Both Baracus and De Jong are famous for a combative attitude and a reputation for robust play.

But scratch the surface and the similarities end. Baracus's favoured fighting move, for example, was to lift his opponent over his head and throw them through the air, preferably into a convenient pile of cardboard boxes or stack of oil drums.

De Jong's trademark move, however, is the chest-high flying karate kick. That could actually hurt someone.

Then we move on to catchphrases. "I ain't gettin' on no plane, fool!" was Baracus's most famous line, and yet among Manchester City players it surely belongs to Carlos Tevez, who probably uses it every time Mancini asks him to return from an extended family barbecue in Argentina. (See also: "I ain't gettin' on no pitch, fool.")

And what about appearance? Mario Balotelli is already rocking the Baracus look, with that distinctive Mohawk haircut and penchant for flashy jewellery.

In fact, the more you think about it, Balotelli appears to model himself on Baracus. The looks, the attitude, the love of cars.

Frankly, I would not be surprised to learn that the infamous "fireworks incident" earlier this year, in which fire engines were called to Balotelli's home, was caused not by bathroom-based pyrotechnical horseplay after all, but a genuine attempt to create a working cabbage-firing cannon using improvised domestic material. And a welding torch.

As for wandering into that female prison in Italy, he probably thought it was a maximum-security military stockade, in which a unit of crack commandos was incarcerated for a crime they did not commit.

You probably know that BA stands for Bad Attitude. But did you know that in many Latin countries, where the gag does not translate, BA is simply called … wait for it … Mario.

I rest my case. Now all Roberto Mancini must do is find that magic word which sends the lad into a trance.

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Given its “colourful” history, you might think the sport of boxing would wish to distance itself from any association with organised crime.

Yet before last weekend’s match between Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson, the Khan camp appeared to be talking it up.

Richard Schaefer, Khan’s US promoter, said the British fighter’s decision to meet the American in his own backyard was “gangster”.

Nobody is suggesting Khan arrived in Washington with plans to run numbers for a crime syndicate. It was meant to convey a sense of menacing confidence.

And yet after the result did not go his way, Khan’s team has appealed in writing to the District of Columbia Boxing and Wrestling Commission. They have also written to the IBF and WBA.

Well, that does not sound very “gangster”, does it?

If Khan’s people insist on debasing the sport with gangster talk, they must walk the walk as well as talking the talk. Otherwise they will just sound silly.