Mario Balotelli got his hair cut last week. That might not sound like front-page news but in Italy that is exactly what it was. The Milan striker's new 'do was displayed from three different angles on the cover of Wednesday's edition of Gazzetta dello Sport. The accompanying text described his latest style as a "Mohawk inspired by warriors".
To the untrained eye, it looked much the same as a regular Mohawk, only with some extra patterns shaved into the sides. "It was an idea that came to us both," said Balotelli's barber, Amos Bersini. "He wanted something that transmitted the language of warriors, and we created the look which you can see on his head now. Let's hope it brings him good luck for [Saturday's game between Napoli and Milan]."
Fortune had not smiled on Balotelli during previous meetings with Napoli. He had faced them four times – twice with Internazionale, then once each with Manchester City and Milan – but not once finished on the winning side.
It was also against Napoli, last September, that Balotelli failed to convert a penalty for the first time in his career. His run of 21 successful spot-kicks was ended by Pepe Reina's save as Milan lost 2-1 at home. The next day's papers billed it as an "historic" event.
But if Balotelli was eager to exorcise those demons, then he also had other things on his mind this weekend. Naples, after all, is home to his former girlfriend, Raffaella Fico, a woman with whom he has enjoyed less than cordial relations since they split in 2012. And on Wednesday, Balotelli had acknowledged paternity of her one-year-old daughter, Pia, for the first time.
He did it on Twitter, posting the message: "Finally the TRUTH :-) ...PIA .... Sweet child of mine !!! your Dad."
Balotelli then followed up with another tweet in Italian, this one presumably aimed at Fico. "The time lost to telling lies about me on TV and in the newspapers – who did that serve?" he wrote. "And what end?"
The player was reacting after receiving the results of a DNA test that confirmed his relationship with the child. He had been asking to have one ever since Pia was born, refusing to visit her until he had a definite answer on whether or not she was his.
Accusing Fico of stalling, and citing his own experiences of being put up for adoption at a young age, Balotelli told Gazzetta last December that he did not want to hurt the little girl by getting close to her without knowing the truth first, saying: "Kids should not be disappointed by adults who [show up and] then disappear. I know a thing or two about that."
He insisted in the same interview that if his paternity was confirmed, he would want to play an active role in Pia's life. Balotelli confirmed as much in a letter sent to the Mediaset TV show Verissimo, saying that he looked forward to getting to know her "away from the media noise".
Until then, he called on viewers to respect his privacy. "I want to keep this explosion, this joy, to myself," he wrote. "I hope that my silence can open the path to avoiding further controversies on TV or in the newspapers, that people can understand that there is a child in the middle of all this."
Whether or not such a plea can be heeded remains to be seen. When a player's fame is such that even a haircut gets front-page coverage, then it is hard to believe that any aspect of his private life will be allowed to stay private for long.
On Saturday, attention did turn back to the football. Fans had already been eager to see how Milan – unbeaten in three league games under Clarence Seedorf – would fare against opponents who sat 15 points above them. The backdrop of Balotelli's emotional week only made the action on the pitch more compelling.
Milan could not have started the game any better, Adel Taarabt scoring in the eighth minute. Signed on loan from QPR during the January transfer window, the Moroccan was drafted into the starting XI only after Kaká and Keisuke Honda were laid low with the flu, but rewarded Seedorf with a stunning debut goal, running half the length of the pitch before cutting in from the left and stroking the ball into the far corner of the net.
The lead did not last for long. Three minutes later, Gokhan Inler equalised with a shot from outside the area that deflected off the outstretched leg of Nigel de Jong and looped over Christian Abbiati in the Milan goal. The sides remained level until after the interval, when Gonzalo Higuaín struck twice to secure a deserved 3-1 victory for Napoli. They had dominated, finishing with 14 shots on target to their opponents' six.
In-between those two Higuaín strikes Balotelli was substituted, exiting the game in the 73rd minute after failing to make his mark. Soon afterwards, TV cameras spotted him crying in the dugout.
Within minutes, that image had gone viral. A rumour began on social media that Balotelli had been upset by racist abuse. None had been heard on TV nor reported by any media outlet at the stadium. Napoli would later release a statement in which they sought to "underline that, as everyone present … could tell, there were no racist chants against him, just as there were no racist chants at the Stadio San Paolo against anyone."
There was no mention of any abuse during Seedorf's after-match interview. "There are moments when emotions like this can express themselves," he said. "It's not the first time that I've seen a player cry. It happened to me plenty of times, too."
It is not the first time that we have seen Balotelli cry, either. He did so after both the semi-final and final of the European Championship in 2012, and at least once during a training session while José Mourinho was in charge in 2009.
Without hearing from Balotelli, it is impossible to know what pushed him to tears. It was mooted by more than one newspaper on Sunday morning that he might have had some special dedication ready for Pia and was disappointed not to be able to give it. At the end of such a life-changing week, it could just as easily have been a combination of many different factors.
In the end, there will only ever be one person who knows what is going on inside Balotelli's head. All that the rest of us can say for certain is that he has still never beaten Napoli in his career. It will be at least six-and-a-half months before he gets another shot … and presumably several more haircuts as well.
• The Rome derby had looked set to be a hot-tempered affair, after the Lazio manager Edy Reja made an ill-advised quip about hoping that one or two Roma players would get injured leading up to the game. That went down very badly with his opposite number, Rudi Garcia, who asked: "If a manager says a thing like this publically, what can he say to his players in the changing room before a game? To go break someone's leg or kill someone?" And yet nobody seemed much in danger of getting hurt once the game had begun, both teams playing cautiously and without the aggression that has characterised some past games. The draw suited Lazio better and they remain unbeaten in the league since the winter break. Juventus's draw with Verona meant that Roma at least did not fall any further behind the league leaders.
• Suffice to say that Antonio Conte was not best pleased with his Juve team, who blew a 2-0 second-half lead against Verona, with the equaliser arriving deep in injury time. The Bianconeri retain a nine-point advantage over Roma at the top of the table (albeit having played one game more) so they are not in ay immediate danger of losing first place but this is not the first game this season in which they have dropped points after holding a two-goal lead. In October they were 2-0 up after 65 minutes away to Fiorentina and wound up losing 4-2.
• Luca Toni scored the first of Verona's goals against Juventus, prompting inevitable conversations about whether he might force his way back into the Italy side in time for the World Cup but it is Ciro Immobile's form for Torino that will be truly getting hard for Cesare Prandelli to ignore. The uncapped 23-year-old has scored seven goals in his past seven games, moving up to third on the Serie A scoring charts with 12 on the season. His goal this weekend was meaningless for his club side – who still lost 2-1 at home to Bologna – but might yet have value to the player in his attempts to win the Italy manager's attention.
• At long last, Inter have their first win of the calendar year, Walter Samuel's header enough to see them past struggling Sassuolo. This was not the emphatic performance that the Nerazzurri might have hoped for to mark Hernanes's debut, but for now they will take three points any way they can. The going will be an awful lot tougher away to Fiorentina next weekend.
Fiorentina 2-0 Atalanta, Inter 1-0 Sassuolo, Lazio 0-0 Roma, Livorno 0-1 Genoa, Napoli 3-1 Milan, Parma 0-0 Catania, Sampdoria 1-0 Cagliari, Torino 1-2 Bologna, Udinese 3-0 Chievo, Verona 2-2 Juventus