Noel Gallagher meets Mario Balotelli
"Hi Mario, I'm Dan Walker from the BBC."
"Hello... wait... BBC? Journalist?"
"I do not like you already."
That was the conversation that accompanied my first meeting with Mario Balotelli, the Italian enigma who has excited and baffled in equal measure since stepping on to these shores.
Singer Noel Gallager and I had been waiting for the striker at Manchester City's training ground. We had arrived nice and early and been given a tour by Patrick Vieira, who is near the top of my "nicest Frenchmen I've met" list. He's just behind the guy who gave me an extra "boule" of chocolate ice cream last summer.
After the tour Noel challenged me to a game of darts on the board outside the "player care" area. I asked if he wanted to play Killer but he was unfamiliar with the rules so we decided to go for the classic 501. That was swiftly abandoned after it became clear our remedial maths was holding up play significantly.
Eventually we settled on "around the world" (or "around the clock" in some parts) which, for those of you who don't know, rewards the dartist who hits every number in order first, starting at one and ending at 20. I got off to a flyer, reaching seven in my first nine darts while Noel was struggling - even landing one "arrar" dangerously close to the foam-surround protecting the precious wall.
Noel Gallagher, a life-long City supporter, was a member of the band Oasis for over 16 years and now has his own band - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. Photo: BBC
Just as Noel was explaining that he was struggling because we were using a "cockney" dartboard and not a proper "Mancunian" one, our interviewee turned up.
The chat with Mario had taken the best part of five weeks to arrange. Balotelli simply does not talk publicly. As you will see when you watch the whole thing on Football Focus on Saturday, he has no time for the media. Manchester City are inundated with requests throughout the season but 99.9% of them are turned down because the player simply says "no".
It is odd for a footballer who rarely talks to be so captivating but Balotelli is not a normal footballer. Whether it is the rumours about dressing up as Santa Claus or paying for people's petrol, doing magic tricks for friends during a game, stamping on opponents, scoring with his shoulder, frequenting various nocturnal establishments, setting off fireworks or his "Why Always Me?" T-shirt, the man is a fascinating individual.
Like every other broadcaster in the known universe we had made several attempts to interview him throughout his time in England. About five weeks ago I called Manchester City's press department on the off-chance he had decided it was time to sit down in front of a camera. He hadn't.
Now it should be said that City are one of the most approachable, forward-thinking and accommodating clubs when it comes to player access. They are constantly doing things in the community, supporting charities and giving us the opportunity to talk to their highly paid stars. With that in mind, I went back to the club a few days later with a second proposal: What if we could get Noel Gallagher to do the interview? Again the answer was "No, I just don't think he's interested, but let me talk to Mario". This seemed like serious progress and a week or so later we were on the phone again.
"He'll do it," said the voice at the other end. "He likes Oasis and he'll talk to Noel... but only Noel". The only thing we had to do now was get Mario - who does not have a great track record when it comes to reliability - and Noel - the busiest man in showbusiness - together. Cue two weeks of conversations with agents, agencies, friends and friends of friends to find a suitable date and a suitable location.
The most important thing in our favour was that Gallagher loves Balotelli. He is currently on tour with High Flying Birds and dedicates a song to Mario each night. To Noel, Balotelli is a rock star who happens to wear a pair of shorts. Such was the former Oasis man's keenness to sit down with his favourite player that he was willing to change his entire schedule to get to Manchester last Friday.
I don't want to say too much about the interview other than that it was fascinating to watch. Balotelli comes across as a shy, slightly awkward individual, almost entirely unaware of the talent he has at his disposal and slowly coming to terms with the responsibility that accompanies his fame. When asked if he had a question for Noel at the end of the interview, he said: "Why do you like me so much?" He seemed baffled that someone could have that much affection for him. Noel's answer was about four minutes long!
You will hear him talk about Roberto Mancini, his own attitude, his need to mature, his goal celebrations, the return of Carlos Tevez, his background and his future in the game. Perhaps most interestingly of all, he deals with some of the many rumours and myths that accompany his activities in and around Manchester. Did he really attend mass on Christmas Eve and put £1,000 in the offering box? Did he take a bullied child back to school to deal with the oppressor? Does he drive around Manchester handing out money to onlookers and what is the real story behind the impromptu firework display at Balotelli Towers the night before the Manchester derby?
It is also worth saying that Mr Gallagher plays a sterling roll in all of this and brings the best out of the striker. There are a number of celebrities who "like" football because they feel it essential to their popularity, but Noel is a genuine supporter. Within minutes of meeting him, he was running through Vieira's career statistics and detailing where City had improved since the days of Danny Tiatto and Bob Taylor.
We will have a full-length interview with Noel coming up in a couple of weeks, but Saturday's Football Focus is all about Balotelli. I know it is easy to overhype these things but the stuff you will see was well worth the hundreds of phone calls, emails and logistical shenanigans it took to set up. I hope you enjoy it and don't forget you can always find me at twitter.com/danwalkerbbc
You'll be able to see Noel Gallagher's in-depth exclusive interview with Mario Balotelli on Saturday's Football Focus at 1215 GMT on BBC1.