Antonio Conte has called on Mario Balotelli to prove his worth in the Italy squad following the striker’s return to the national team after the disappointing World Cup in Brazil.
The Liverpool forward has struggled to make an impact at Anfield since his summer move from Milan and did not make the cut in Conte’s first two Azzurro squads, but he has been selected for the upcoming matches against Croatia and Albania. Conte is desperate to see the 24-year-old rediscover his best form for the national team.
“He certainly has significant experience with the Azzurri. He took part in a World Cup and European Championship,” explained Conte.
“It was planned that Balotelli would be called to be evaluated, because you cannot judge [players] on hearsay. Surely it’s right that we assess him closely.Called up during his worst spell? He plays as a starter for Liverpool, many other players aren’t even starters.”
“Perhaps it’s for the best that he doesn’t come from a positive spell. He’ll be available for the national team and I’ll be looking at him closely. Here, all the players are equal, Mario is one of five attackers. If he is good, he will play, otherwise he is on the bench or in the stands. The error lies upstream – to split Mario from the rest is not good.”
“Mario is one of many, he is part of the 26 players. It is you that talk about him. Here there is a revolving door – it comes around once.”
“I think Mario is Liverpool’s main striker, and often any considerations [for strikers] are based on their goals. We’ve followed him, and he’s always tried to do his best, even if at times there was no other way [for him]. He’s 24 and not the youngest anymore.”
“There are no particular hierarchies. I say that the other four are ahead of [Balotelli] because they have already worked with me. If then, in a week, he shows me that he’s joined the others in terms of concepts, desire, enthusiasm and passion, then he will have overcome these hierarchies.”
Balotelli’s new hard-working attitude in training has impressed Italy’s players and staffs alike with reports suggesting that the forward displayed a new attitude after quietly accepting a round of push-ups as punishment for failing to intercept a pass. The senators of the squad including Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele De Rossi, who is in line to win his 100th cap with the Azzurri on Sunday against Croatia, had encouraging words for Balotelli.
“There was nothing to fix [with Balotelli],” the Juventus defender said. “We decided to make a point only about the World Cup. We know it went badly. It’s a new campaign, and you have to forget about the past, while remembering the desire to make up for what happened in this period.”
“Balotelli is not the kind of guy who causes problems in the dressing room,” De Rossi told the reporters.”He might be exuberant and sometimes goes about his business in a particular way, but fundamentally he’s good natured.”
Italy sit second in Group H with three wins from three games, trailing leaders and this weekend’s opponents Croatia on goal difference.