Roberto Mancini: Balotelli can be as good as Messi if he knuckles down
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini claims his enigmatic forward Mario Balotelli can be as good as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
Mancini left Balotelli out of the squad to face Tottenham earlier this month because of what he felt was a poor attitude in training.
That sparked fresh speculation the 22-year-old could leave City but Mancini insisted he has no intention of selling his former Inter Milan protege and has now urged him to focus fully on his football.
The rewards for that, he believes, could elevate him to the level of the world's best players.
Mancini said: "Mario, outside the pitch, is a fantastic guy.
"Sometimes he doesn't understand which is your job, and how his job is important for his life, but I hope for him that he can understand this quickly.
"Now he is 22 but life can go quickly and I hope he can improve everything because as a player he could be like Cristiano and Messi, if he understands that to be like this you should work hard, your mind should be always on your job, not on the other things that are not important. I am very sorry for him for this.
"He has everything to be one of the best players in the world."
Balotelli was spotted in a nightclub in the early hours of the morning prior to the November 11 Spurs game although no curfew was broken as Mancini had already informed him he would not be playing.
Mancini has remained fiercely loyal to Balotelli throughout his near two-and-a-half years at City despite a number of controversial incidents on and off the field.
The 47-year-old hopes he can oversee Balotelli's development into the player he believes he should be.
Mancini added of his fellow Italian: "It is not too easy to work with him every day because if you are a manager, you should manage 22 players.
"This is difficult sometimes but I hope he can change his mind."
A back injury sustained on recent international duty prevented Balotelli from returning to the side in Saturday's 5-0 Barclays Premier League win over Aston Villa.
He remains doubtful for Wednesday Champions League clash against Ronaldo's Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium but has trained.
Mancini said: "Yesterday he trained with the physio and tomorrow and today he will train with the team and we will see if he can play."