After Italy’s Euro 2012 semi-final win against Germany no one can deny that Mario Balotelli is a superb footballer. In case you missed the match, he scored twice within 16 minutes of the first half, effectively killing the game and propelling Italy into the final.
The first goal was good – the second was spectacular, a contender for goal of the tournament.
Granted, Italy hasn’t won it yet but Balotelli has already eclipsed Ronaldo, as the striker of an admittedly somewhat lacklustre Euro 2012.
Of course what’s got everyone talking as well as the goals is his celebration.
The history of goal celebrations makes an interesting footnote in the annals of football history.
From Roger Milla’s dance in the 1990 World Cup, to Bebeto rocking the baby four years later or Jurgen Klinsmann’s satirical dives in the mid 1990’s, goal celebrations are about taunting and intimidating the opposition just as much as celebrating goals.
They’re about imposing the striker’s personal brand by being smarter, cheekier, more outrageous, more athletic, more…something.
But this celebration is different.
It’s a negative celebration, a celebration that isn’t.
A beautiful example of less is more.
By standing as still as a statue of a svelte Mr. T and impelling his team mates to come to him, Balotelli has defiantly re-defined the category with an inspired example of predatory thinking.
And if you score spectacular goals, they will come running.
He’s out-competing by not competing, by literally doing nothing.
There’s confidence verging on arrogance in this demonstration of apartness.
And as much as the ritual is calculated to gain our attention and maybe our animus, it is also evidence of steely self-awareness and presence of mind.
Because the natural thing to do, the thing you’ve been doing since you were a kid, is celebrate a goal in motion with your arms raised.
And when Balotelli first started scoring for Manchester City that's exactly what he did.
But sometime during the 2011/12 season the celebration evolved into his current celebration of minimalism.
Overcoming the natural impulse to actively celebrate and overturning a life-long habit can’t be as easy as it looks.
And I think we can learn some lessons from Mario that have nothing to do with football and quite a lot to do with branding.
Because whereas Balotelli the footballer is all about power, skill and athleticism, Balotelli the brand is great example of contrarian positioning with a goal celebration built on stillness.
The thinking is every bit as predatory as his footballing instincts.
As a brand Balotelli is a brand leader that still thinks subversively like an emerging brand.
That’s how to dominate a category.
That’s how to distinguish your brand.
And sometimes it doesn't take much.
But you need the intention.
You need the confidence.