Will "bad boy" Balotelli's return help his boss Berlusconi?
By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - Soccer players do not usually enter a nation's political fray but when the country is Italy, the player is Mario Balotelli and the person running for office is his new boss Silvio Berlusconi, all bets are off.
Balotelli, the hot-tempered forward who had been playing for Manchester City, is poised to sign for AC Milan, the club owned by the former prime minister vying for a political comeback.
The timing of the deal and its potential electoral implications were not lost on anyone, least of all Berlusconi's centre-left opposition.
L'Unita, the paper of the main centre-left party, said thrusting Balotelli into the campaign was "the devil's touch", a play on words because Milan's mascot is a red-and-black devil.
The paper said fans of the club, which won the Italian championship in 2011 but is now lying fifth in the first division, could influence about 1.3 percent of the vote.
Berlusconi's move less than a month before the February 24-25 vote is a Great Gatsby-style "grand gesture by the magnificent fool" who thinks money can buy influence, the paper said.
La Stampa newspaper calculated that Balotelli could be worth 400,000 votes. One Italian television station called the move Berlusconi's "ace up his sleeve".
The latest polls say the centre left will win but its lead over the centre right has narrowed significantly since December when Berlusconi, after changing his mind several times, decided to return to active politics. Continued...