Mario Balotelli is back in the Italy squad for the first time in nearly four years and his former boss at Manchester City – Roberto Mancini – has defended the recall, two months ahead of their crucial World Cup playoff
Balotelli, 31, hasn’t played international football for nearly four years but was invited to join the Azzurri’s three-day training camp in Florence.
The striker is currently playing for Turkish side Adana Demirspor, scoring nine goals in 19 league appearances this season.
Some critics believe Mancini has selected Balotelli out of desperation, with Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti both struggling to deliver on the international stage.
The former Manchester City manager, however, has dismissed those claims.
Is Mario Balotelli good enough to play international football? Let us know in the comments below!
“Am I playing a desperate card? No,” said Mancini on Wednesday. “If that desperation is the same as that before the European Championship, then that’s fine.
“But that’s not the situation here. Over the next few days we’ll try different things and evaluate players that have not been called up for a while, like Mario, and others that are new.”
Balotelli is viewed as one of the great mavericks of his generation, experiencing plenty of highs and lows since emerging at Inter Milan nearly 15 years ago.
He’s briefly prospered at AC Milan and Nice but struggled at Liverpool and Brescia.
Now, in the space of 12 months, he’s gone from playing in the second tier of Italian football with Monza to being part of the national squad.
Few managers know Balotelli better than Mancini, who signed him for Man City more than a decade ago.
“On a technical level, he was always good, that’s not up for debate, we just need to see how he is physically,” said Mancini when asked about the player’s fitness.
“Then he has to fit into a group that has been working really well. He doesn’t need to promise me anything. He’s been called up just as others have been called up.
“We were curious to see him after so long, but we have to see how it goes. I think he’s happy to be here. We’ll see if he will be able to give us a hand.”
Balotelli has scored 14 goals in 36 senior appearances for Italy, although he’s won just three caps in the last eight years.
Mancini’s side – who beat England in the final of Euro 2020 – still need to win two games to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
The Azzurri host North Macedonia on March 24 and, if they win that game, will play either Portugal or Turkey five days later.
Speaking about Italy’s World Cup chances in November, Mancini said: “We have this game in March and will try to give our best.
“At the moment, we are struggling to score goals, despite dominating possession and the initiative… we’ll book our place in the World Cup in March and hopefully win the tournament too.”