Roberto Mancini says Mario Balotelli has only himself to blame for not being Italy’s first-choice striker, and told L’Equipe he used to simply hope the Nice forward’s “head would work well on matchdays.”
Balotelli, 26, spent the international break watching Italy on TV after he was not called up for their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Spain and Macedonia.
Mancini gave Balotelli his Serie A debut while Inter Milan coach during the 2007-08 season, and then signed the striker at Manchester City when he was appointed manager of the Premier League club in 2010, and he says the forward’s international exile is self-inflicted.
“That Mario isn’t in the Italy squad is his own fault. It’s incredible he’s not Italy’s first-choice forward. He’s the best striker of recent years,” Mancini said. “I hope Mario has understood that he needs to have a different attitude, to think only about football. It’s not so difficult.”
Mancini had a training-ground spat with Balotelli during their time at City but has adopted a paternal role with the striker, who left Liverpool for Nice on a free transfer in the summer.
“I always tried to talk a lot to him,” Mancini said. “He always listened. Sometimes, the words went in one ear and out the other. And he’s nice, so sometimes he made me laugh. I hoped his head would work well on matchdays.
“Sometimes he can annoy you but it’s impossible not to wish him well. I’m sorry that he’s lost a lot of time in recent years. With his qualities, he should have done a lot more. If he understands that Nice have given him a great opportunity … he’s only 26, fortunately, but a career goes by so quickly. He must only think of working.
“You can’t allow yourself to waste all the qualities the Lord has given you. I’m reminded of Adriano, who I had at Inter. He could have become an amazing player, but he lost his way.”
Balotelli left Liverpool after a desperately disappointing spell at Anfield. His two-and-a-half-year stay at City was not always happy, but he did make a significant contribution to the club’s — and Mancini’s — dramatic Premier League title win of 2011-12.
It was also that season in which he earned iconic status among City fans for his double strike and “Why always me?” T-shirt in a 6-1 derby win at Old Trafford.
“Mario was amazing!” Mancini said. “Everyone had a great game that will be talked about in more than 100 years’ time. That day, it was like Mario was grown up, an adult, and all the others were children. I would have liked to have seen him always like he was during that derby, because things come so naturally to him when he wants them to. I was happy he showed his true value.
“And when he showed his T-shirt, I really said to myself that he is a phenomenon. Who could have thought of doing that? He’s a phenomenon in the way things come into his head. The day before the game, he told me about the fire at his house. He told me he was sleeping and that his friends were there … with Mario, you can expect something to happen every day.”
Mancini, who then saw Balotelli depart for AC Milan in January 2013, added: “I was disappointed he wanted to leave. He should have done more in a league which is extraordinary.”