Behave, or get sent off: Italy teammates in warning to Mario Balotelli ahead of England quarter final
MANCHESTER City striker Mario Balotelli was warned yesterday by Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi that he must behave and accept the authority of the coach Cesare Prandelli or risk undermining his team in their Euro 2012 quarter-final against England on Sunday.
The controversial 21-year-old was a prominent theme in yesterday's press conference with De Rossi, in which the Roma midfielder made no attempt to hide his occasional exasperation at Balotelli's inability to control his emotions around football. "He's a great player, so if he wants to grow up, he has to know how to react to this kind of high-pressure game," De Rossi said.
Asked whether there was a possibility that Balotelli could be at risk of a yellow card or worse against an England defence that has been one of the best aspects of the team in this tournament, De Rossi said: "Up to a certain point. We have talked a lot about Balotelli."
Balotelli has refused to speak at all since the Italy team arrived at their base in Krakow, turning down daily requests from the Italian media.
He remains a subject of fascination in Italy as much as he retains a cult status in England, even though there is still no certainty that Balotelli will start Sunday's game in Kiev, having been a substitute in the last game against the Republic of Ireland in which he scored a well-executed second goal in their 2-0 win. De Rossi said that the player himself had to take responsibility for the manner in which he was portrayed publically.
"With Mario and the tabloid newspapers, you have to ask him," De Rossi said. "I don't know whether he is worried about it or whether it is him who is giving them the material. He's kind of used to this situation. There is a lot of talk and scandals around him because he's very good. He's an outstanding player. He's young, he's playing at Manchester City.
"I have seen him being very calm at this tournament. We are here to win Euro 2012 which means everyone has to take responsibility and, so far, everyone has done that. Everyone here is treated the same way.
"Of course, sometimes, he commits some mistakes off the pitch. But it's his responsibility. He has to play a great game against England. He has all the quality to do that. He simply has to accept the manager's decision. It's the manager who will take the decision about him."
Balotelli trained with his Italy team-mates at the Cracovia stadium last night. The England players were given the day off following their overnight flight back to Krakow from Donetsk but will be back in training this morning. None of the England players have reported any further injuries in the aftermath of their last Group D match against Ukraine.
James Milner, Balotelli's City team-mate, said that the striker was an unpredictable character, whose approach to games would change according to his mood. Balotelli picked up two red cards and nine bookings for City in the season just passed, as well as the incident in which his house was set alight by fireworks ignited in his bathroom in October.
Milner said: "There are obviously two Marios. There is one who sometimes turns up in training and sometimes it is a bit cold and he is not too interested and there is the other time when he is really on to it and he is a special talent. He is top player, we know that but the lads at the back have been brilliant and I'm sure they'll continue to do that and hopefully we will cause them a few problems going the other way.
"I might give him a bit of banter. It's good to see him score [against Ireland], but the boys at the back have been outstanding so far in this tournament. Joleon [Lescott], as well, all season for City and now he is doing it for England as well, he has been unbelievable. He knows him well, he trains with him every day and I'm sure he will keep him quiet.
"We've seen that he [Balotelli] is a different player, he is going to cause you problems. He is very strong, shooting he can cause problems, he is tricky, he's strong and he's a clever player as well. He's a danger but he is one of many. They have got a lot of good players in their team so we need to make sure we don't just concentrate on him."
De Rossi said that he regarded England as a "very Italian team – you can see it in the style, from [Fabio] Capello to [Roy] Hodgson". The Roma midfielder was a protégé of the former England manager who promoted him during his time in charge of the club and set him on his way to his international career. De Rossi is regarded as Italy's equivalent to Steven Gerrard and said that the England captain had been a major influence on his career.
De Rossi said: "Steven Gerrard is my idol. He has been at the pinnacle for 10 years. You see Gerrard defending and attacking. I would like to be able to play more like that."