New, improved Balotelli ready to fulfil dying father’s wish
Liverpool misfit Mario Balotelli claims he has left his childish ways behind and is ready to knuckle down at AC Milan as he bids to fulfil his dying father’s wish of playing for Italy again.
Balotelli’s return to the Rossoneri on a one-season loan deal has been met with derision in Italy, with pundits and most fans opposed to the striker’s return to the club he left only a year ago.
Balotelli spectacularly underperformed at Anfield, instead embellishing his reputation as a “liability” — the view of former Reds legend Graeme Souness, among others.
Against his own expectations, the 25-year-old has been given a second chance by Milan. But he knows it could be his last with a top club.
Coach Sinisa Mihajlovic and Milan have instigated a special code of conduct for Balotelli, a player who in the past has riled fans and clubs with his off-field antics, outrageous hairstyles and outings to nightclubs where he has enjoyed the odd cigarette.
Balotelli has pledged to comply — and with good reason. His adoptive father Francesco, whose dying wish was to see Balotelli don the Italy shirt again, died last month. He is also close to his two-year-old daughter Pia, born to ex-girlfriend Raffaella Fico, who is based in Italy.
Like a neo-professional who has just signed his first contract, Balotelli has it all to prove again on and off the field.
But in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport he said: “I feel like a player who’s just finished the first half of his career. I played and lived like a kid. It hasn’t always gone well, I’ve wasted a lot of opportunities.
“But the game’s not over, I still have a second half to play. Now, I’ll play it like a man.”
– ‘can’t mess up’ –
A poll on the popular ‘Processo del Lunedi’ sports programme on Monday showed 62 percent of fans opposed his return. Last week, respected pundit and former Milan great Zvonimir Boban called Balotelli’s intended move “absurd”.
“I know a lot of people don’t believe in my comeback, it’s up to me to prove them wrong,” added Balotelli.
“Milan have taken a gamble, but I’ve made a promise to myself, and all the people who support me… I’m starting from zero and know I can’t mess this one up.
“I will follow every rule. I know I’ll only be given my chance if I deserve it, but I haven’t forgotten how to play football.”
Born to parents of Ghanaian origin, Balotelli was fostered by a white family, the Balotelli’s, when he was three years old and eventually adopted.
When he scored the goals for Italy that sent the Azzurri to the final of Euro 2012, Balotelli rushed over to embrace his adoptive mother Silvia as she wept after the win.
But it is his father who is on Balotelli’s mind.
“Seeing me back in the Azzurri shirt was one of his dreams before he died. I owe it to him,” said Balotelli.
Milan host Empoli in their first home game of the season this weekend, but fans hoping to see the Balotelli of old — showing arrogance and reacting to the provocation of fans and rival players — could be disappointed.
“I will no longer respond to any provocation and will show respect to everyone, from opponents, referees and rival fans,” he said.
Even in the event of racist chanting?
“It’s really up to the referees to intervene in these moments, and I will keep my mouth shut. But then in the press conference I will go crazy,” he added.
“You need respect. Fans who racially abuse me when I’m playing against their club are the same ones who shout for me to score when I’m playing for Italy.
“But the day I don’t get whistled at is the day I have to start worrying: that’s when you’re no longer a threat.”