Saturday 25 March 2017

Mancini will play Balotelli at Juve despite fears of racial abuse

Ian Herbert

Roberto Mancini has acknowledged that Mario Balotelli will "probably" receive more racist abuse when Manchester City face Juventus in their last Europa League group fixture, but does not intend to protect the 20-year-old by leaving him at home, because he believes his side will travel to Turin in need of three points.

"Probably. It could be," Mancini replied, when asked if the striker will face the same vitriol in Stadio Olimpico on December 16 as he did from the Italian fans who subjected him to racist abuse when he appeared for the national side against Romania in Austria earlier this month.

"I hope this doesn't happen, but it is possible," added Mancini, who has said Balotelli could be as good as Eric Cantona or Wayne Rooney.

"But no, I will not leave him out. We must think only of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League and that means we must beat Salzburg and must win in Turin."

Though a win against Salzburg at Eastlands tomorrow night would ensure qualification, Lech Poznan, who are at home to Juventus, can also top the group. Mancini's desire to attain that slot -- thus avoiding one of the clubs eliminated early from the Champions League -- was dealt a blow by the defeat in Poznan earlier this month.

City and Poznan are joint top of Group A on seven points with the same goal difference.

Mancini, meanwhile, is still angered by the way his countrymen abused Balotelli in Austria.

"The world is full of stupid people -- here, Romania and in Italy there are a lot of stupid people," he said.

"I think (the environment) is better in England. I know him very well and he is a good guy. He's only 20, he's young, sometime his behaviour is not perfect, but he is a good guy."

The City manager said last week that Balotelli's temperament was the only impediment to him becoming a world-class player and intended to speak with him before the visit to Stoke last Saturday about how other clubs and fans would seek to goad him.

Many of the Italian observers who watched the weekend's game live felt that Balotelli had been provoked less in the 1-1 draw at the Britannia Stadium than in most of the matches he had played in a career at Internazionale. However, Balotelli appears not to have been able to keep a cool head until the end of the fixture.

Sky Sport Italia commentator Paolo Ciarravano, working from freeze-frame, close-up camera shots, lip-read Balotelli saying three times "tu sei scemo" (you are an idiot) to referee Peter Walton when he awarded an 89th-minute free-kick to Stoke's Marc Wilson after what looked like a 50-50 challenge with the Italian.

Mancini substituted Balotelli in the 93rd minute and still feels his pep talk with him worked.

"I'm very pleased with Mario. He did not talk to the referee after his three-match ban, and that was very important for him," he said.

However, the challenge in Turin will be far greater. Italian fans unveiled a banner reading 'no to a multi-ethnic national team' in Austria and there was verbal racist abuse for the player.

Paolo Berlusconi, brother of Silvio, the Italian president and AC Milan proprietor, has also said that he wants Milan to sign the 20-year-old.

"I am not part of Milan, but every now and again I call Adriano Galliani (chief executive) during the transfer windows and ask him for some information," he said.

"I would like to see Balotelli join AC Milan."

Mancini, though, does not believe that Balotelli's frequent returns to Italy are unsettling or unwise. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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