Roberto Mancini warns Mario Balotelli “must score at least 20 goals this season” for Nice and believes he can still become “a top player”.
Mancini has acted as a mentor to the striker, having given him his debut at Inter and also brought him to Manchester City.
After difficult spells at Liverpool and Milan, Super Mario is trying to rebuild his career at Nice and his former Coach spoke to L’Équipe at length about the forward.
“I was reluctant to do an interview, because people always have something to say about Mario,” Mancini explained.
“I think sometimes that’s tiring for him. But I eventually accepted because I’m happy that he’s doing well at Nice, and he always behaved very well with me.
“A word to describe him? Fantastic! Both as a player and a lad, for good or bad. He’s a special player for me, for everything he’s done on the pitch - and off it!
“I respect him a lot, I hope he understands that he has the chance to become a top player. He has to score at least 20 this season, but Mario has to stop taking his shirt off as soon as he scores one. It should be normal for him to score.”
Mancini then discussed the beginning of his relationship with Balotelli.
“I started playing him at Inter when he was 17. Since I made my Serie A debut at 16, I like to give youth a chance. When you’re young, you need to find a Coach with the courage to let you play.
“Any Coach would have spotted him though, he really was impressive. I was certain he’d become a superstar. He was calm on the pitch, he played with composure.
“During that season [2007-08] he was excellent in training and in the matches. Everyone at Inter really took a liking to him.
“When [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic missed several matches in the second half of the season, I played Mario and he became very important.
“I started him on the last day against Parma, a decisive match for the Scudetto [Inter won 2-0] and he became a champion of Italy in his first season, which is very rare.
“I was happy for him, but at 17 he couldn’t handle all the pressure that fell on him. It can weigh on a sensitive lad like Mario. He’s sensitive, but he’s not fragile.
“He’s a very good lad, with a big heart. Sometimes he can get on your nerves, but it’s impossible not to wish him well.
“I’m sorry that he’s wasted some time in recent years, with his qualities he should have done much more. If he can understand that Nice have given him a great opportunity… thankfully he’s only 26.
“A career goes quickly though, he needs to think only about working! We can’t afford to waste the talent which God gives us.
“I remember Adriano, I had him at Inter and he could have become an incredible star, but he lost his way.
“Who was better? Balotelli. Adriano took advantage of his good physical qualities, but Balotelli is something else. He has some technical qualities which Adriano lacked.”
Mancini left Inter in the summer of 2008, but reunited with Balotelli at Manchester City.
“I told the directors: ‘get Balotelli because he’s a great player’.
“He had to adapt to a different style of football, and some of the opponents would provoke him. He fell into the trap.
“In England, the tabloids were happy to have Mario. All the papers were delighted.
“I always tried to talk to him, and he always listened but sometimes the words went in one ear and out the other. And because he’s a nice lad, when that happened it would make me laugh.
“I was always just hoping his head would be right on matchdays. I wasn’t a psychologist, more like a big brother. That’s how I see our relationship.
“It’s not a father-son relationship, even if Mario is the same age as one of my children. When I got angry with him though, then I was like a father.
“My hope, like a big brother, is that he’ll become a great player again.”
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