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    When a Soccer Player Named Super Mario Is Worth $300 Million

    Written by

    Alec Liu


    At least according to his agent, after 21 year old Mario ‘Super Mario’ Balotelli scored three stunning goals (one, two, three) to help the Italian national team get to the Euro 2012 final against Spain, you know: that sort of huge soccer tournament going on across the pond last Sunday that you most likely didn’t watch. To the rest of the world, and the internet, it was a pretty big deal.

    On Twitter, Euro 2012 broke two key records during a sporting event: the most tweets ever (16.5 million) and the fastest pace (15,358 tweets per second). The final scoreline, 4 to nil, doesn’t do the Italian fight justice, but Spain were deserved champions, perhaps the most talented team ever assembled. Despite the result, Balotelli’s agent still figures his man is worth over $300 million.

    “The way I see it, he’s worth what the market wants,” he told Sky Sport Italia, "but remember that Balotelli is in a team that does not need to sell and therefore he has no price. If I really had to give him a value, I would say £200 million. I am crazy? Go and ask the club what their price would be.

    “They have always said I’m crazy but, in my opinion, at 21 the boy still has potential to be one of the best in the world. At the moment, after these Euros, he is surely one of the best in Europe.”

    Worth $131.5 million.

    It sounds crazy, but his valuation might not be that far off. And it’s not like these numbers are meaningless even if a club chooses not to sell. Take for instance the case of world famous soccer players Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, who were purchased by storied Spanish club Real Madrid from Manchester United and A.C. Milan for a grand sum of 160 million Euros.

    The Spanish bank that funded a good portion of the transfer, Bankio, last year ran into its own financial problems in the wake of the Spanish banking crisis and general European woes. In order to qualify for emergency loans from the European Central Bank, the bank posted up collateral — guarantees it could pay back its debt — in the form of Ronaldo and Kaka.

    Back in Balotelli’s corner, his club, Manchester City (located in the north of England) faces no such financial straits, having recently been bought out by an Abu Dhabi backed investment fund headed by Sheik Mansour, part of a royal family worth an estimated $1 trillion. The new oil rich sugar daddy helped earn the formerly struggling club its first Premiership title (the top league in England and subsequently the richest league in the world) in 44 years, one of the highest honors in world club soccer.

    Things aren’t so rosy on the other side of town where former English champions Manchester United, winner of 19 league titles, continue to suffer the effects of a leveraged buyout by the American Glazer familiy who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (That, as anyone familiar with Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital adventures knows, is when an investor funds his purchase not with his own money, but with debt borrowed against the asset, in this case the actual soccer club, which at the time was relatively debt free.) Now $663 million in debt, the club has paid over $750 million in interest payments since the Glazers bought the team in 2005, essentially money spent on nothing more than maintaining their ownership. Taking Mark Zuckerberg’s lead, the family wants to list the the club on the New York Stock Exchange in order to raise $100 million to trim off some of the debt. Of course, shares normal investors buy will have limited voting value, as the whole deal is structured so the Glazers can keep making the calls.

    If sport is a microcosm of life, then soccer, given its global cultural reach and free market nature, offers a striking reflection on our times. And such are the times we live in, when soccer players are potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars, superstars like Ronaldo are packaged into collateralized loan obligations to keep banks solvent, and a club with over a century of history is pillaged, and straddled with debt by distant foreign investors.

    Follow Alec on Twitter: @sfnuop