If Mario Balotelli were to knuckle down and swap off-field antics for on-field drills he could be as good as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, according to Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini.
The 22-year-old striker has battled injury and poor form for a place in the Blues squad this season, fuelling media speculation about an exit from the Etihad Stadium.
And despite a tiring Mancini avidly avoiding reporters’ questions about his enigmatic apprentice, he is urging Balotelli to focus his attention on football if he really wants to become the best.
“Mario, outside the pitch, is a fantastic guy,” he said. “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.”
Mancini has been Balotelli’s most loyal fan since his arrival from Inter Milan in 2010 – but has faced heavy criticism for constantly directing his attention to addressing his young player’s problems.
But although the boss admits it is not always straightforward with Balotelli, he is determined to stick with him.
“It is not too easy to work with him every day because if you are a manager, you should manage 22 players,” he added.
“This is difficult sometimes but I hope he can change his mind.”
Balotelli’s glistening trophy cabinet is shining bright with silverware – in just 161 career games he has won three Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italia, one Premier League title, the FA Cup and the Champions League with Inter and City.
And despite insisting that he himself is better than the world’s greatest two footballers, he has only scooped two individual accolades – his last was being named Man of the Match during City’s FA Cup success almost 18 months ago.
By the same age, Messi and Ronaldo had lifted the Ballon d’Or trophy.