Simone Pepe has revealed his admiration for Mario Balotelli after playing and training alongside him with the Italian national team this past week.
Pepe was speaking of his new-found respect for the Manchester City striker’s abilities ahead of the Azzurri’s preparations for Tuesday’s friendly with Uruguay.
“I’ve already seen Balotelli play well on television, on the field he has confirmed my feeling. I was really impressed, I have seen live that he is an important player.
“You always see the crazy mess around him but beyond that I can assure you he is very nice and a great guy, funny. Besides, he is still young so you can forgive certain things.”
Earlier on Monday, Coach Cesare Prandelli confirmed that both Balotelli - from the start - and Pepe - from the bench - will be involved in tomorrow night’s game. For the Juventus winger, it is a continuation on from Friday’s substitute appearance against Poland of his return to international involvement.
The 28-year-old had not featured in Italy’s qualifying campaign since their disappointing 0-0 draw over a year ago against Northern Ireland.
“The merit of my return to la Nazionale is down to [Antonio] Conte, my Juventus teammates and also me for never giving up.
“It is true, the formation adopted by Prandelli [4-3-1-2] does not mix very well with my characteristics, but I can adapt to any role in the national team because of the character and will to fight that I put in at Juventus.
“And anyway, to have more than one formation is an advantage for Italy and a disadvantage for the opponent.”
Pepe then reflected on the significance of playing for the Azzurri in Rome.
“My story begins on this stage, in Rome where I grew up, I was in the Giallorossi’s youth set-up for 10 years.
“I was with [Daniele] De Rossi - Daniele was used in the first team at 18 because he was probably more ready than I was. These discourses are made with hindsight.”
Think you know your Italian football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's World Cup tipster competition - £10,000 to be won!