Antonio Conte has defended the inclusion of Mario Balotelli in his latest Italy squad, claiming that the striker has a right ‘to be evaluated’.
The Liverpool forward has struggled to make an impact at Anfield since arriving in a £16m transfer from Milan and had missed Conte’s first two Azzurro squads, but he has been selected for the upcoming matches against Croatia and Albania.
“A month ago, I had to explain his omission, today why I called him up,” began Conte.
“The simple answer is that Italy, after the disappointment of the World Cup, is trying to build something beautiful that we can bring to our qualification [campaign] and [hopefully] a good European Championship.
“It was planned that Balotelli would be called to be evaluated, because you cannot judge [players] on hearsay. Surely it’s right that we assess him closely.
“I prefer to evaluate players because it’s right to test them and see whether they share any technical and tactical similarities with my idea of the game and the affinity in their mind.
“Called up during his worst spell? He plays as a starter for Liverpool, many other players aren’t even starters.
“Perhaps it’s for the best that he doesn’t come from a positive spell. He’ll be available for the national team and I’ll be looking at him closely.
“The same goes for Cerci. They both have assets but are finding it hard abroad, and it’s my duty as a Coach to assess what they can give to the national team.
“Excluding players from the outset seems nonsensical to me. With that said, I think next time, you’ll avoid asking who will be there and who won’t.”
It was put to Conte that sponsors had their influence in Balotelli being called up.
“Let's talk about serious things…”
Most of the conference’s early questions centred on the 24-year-old’s inclusion, with one based around whether or not he will fit into the team ethic Conte has looked to instil.
“Here, all the players are equal, Mario is one of five attackers. If he is good, he will play, otherwise he is on the bench or in the stands. The error lies upstream - to split Mario from the rest is not good.
“Mario is one of many, he is part of the 26 players. It is you that talk about him. Here there is a revolving door - it comes around once.
“Will I be challenging him? More than challenging someone, I try to improve the team and its potential. I’m looking in this process of building to find players that will enhance the quality of the national team, it is right to try new ways.
“I refer to Soriano, Betolacci, Cerci, Balotelli, it seems like a very normal thing. It is not a personal challenge.”
Watch Serie A live in the UK on Premier Sports for just £9.99 per month including live LaLiga, Eredivisie, Scottish Cup Football and more. Visit: https://www.premiersports.com/subscribenow