The Liverpool and Italy striker spoke to reporters about his topsy-turvy career so far, dealing with constant media scrutiny and said he will only “start to think I need to change something about myself” when kids ignore him.
In an exclusive interview with talkSport, Balotelli said: “Every morning, when I wake up, I think that maybe yesterday people are speaking bad things about me. But then I see kids coming up to me, like today, and I think I’m not doing that bad. I could do better – of course, I could do way better – but kids are natural, they are honest. If they look at you and don’t like you, they don’t come up to you.”
“So if I see them always coming up to me, then it means I can’t be that bad, either as a footballer or a person. When kids stop asking for my autograph or a picture or whatever, then maybe I will start to think that I need to change something about myself. This is why I love kids. And dogs.”
Balotelli also discussed how he fell in love with football as a child and his desire to keep those feelings alive. “Football has always meant freedom. I go on the pitch and I get to do whatever I want. I remember when I was really young, when I used to go and play in the park with my friends. I always used to come at the last minute, and then whichever team I was going on was always winning. The other team never wanted me to play.”
“But I always felt free, and that’s still the same now as it was then. On the pitch, you think only of what is on the pitch. You have to try whatever you can to be the best. If it works, it works. Sometimes, like now, in this period, it doesn’t work so well. But you keep trying, and then it comes. It’s not difficult, psychologically.”
“I have done mistakes in the past, like everybody did when they were young, And the firework thing did happen, but it wasn’t me who let it off. I know England is like this, though, so it’s okay. It’s a shame, sure, but I get used to it – the newspapers are always trying to give an image of Mario that is bad, printing things that aren’t true.”
“Off the pitch, really I don’t have any problems because I am always home. When people speak bad about me, it’s only because they listen to the media and read what the newspapers say. They maybe lose a little bit of focus on my football, so everybody thinks I am famous for what happens outside the pitch.”
He launched a scathing attack on his former manager Cesare Prandelli for not being a “real” man, but does “understand” why present head coach Antonio Conte dropped him. “I am a face-to-face person.” Balotelli said. “I understand why I am not in the squad. I haven’t been scoring, but other players like [Graziano] Pellè and the other strikers have been. So they deserve to be there, but I love Italy and nobody can ever say anything about my national team.”
“I will always love it, but I have to be honest and say I was disappointed at what people were saying and how they were blaming me after the World Cup. I think I had two, maybe three chances in all the tournament. Everyone knows I scored against England, but I couldn’t do much else.”
“Even Cesare Prandelli has said bad stuff about me. Should he be going and talking to the newspapers about me straight after a game? I did not expect that and I did not reply, because there is no point. I think real men, if they have something to say, then they come to you and say it to your face. I am a face-to-face person, a straight person.”
Balotelli did acknowledge some of the deficiencies in his game and is looking to improve on these aspects. “I need to get in the box more. All the rumours I hear about that – these ones are true. I don’t do it enough, but it is something I am working to try to do more. I have never been a real, out-and-out striker – I have always been someone who goes around the pitch, you know?”
“If it was my choice, I would always go with two strikers. It’s the way I like to play, but Brendan [Rodgers] asked me to play as the first striker. I understand that when the ball comes from wide on the left or right, I need to be in the box otherwise there might be no-one there at all.”
He felt that his current manager can help him improve even more. “He is very good, a strong character,” Balotelli said of Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers.”And I think that comes out in the way the team plays. I think he can help me improve as a player. He is very open, everybody can talk to him – but first he looks at the person, and second he looks at the footballer.”
“I didn’t really know much about the club before coming here, but I’ve been really surprised, I knew they were a very good team, but I didn’t know they were as good as they are. Of course we need to improve many things because we have started off not very good, but I think the players here are amazing. It’s good to see young English players here too: Sterling, Henderson, Lallana. I think the more players you have like this, the better. Maybe over time you have got used to not seeing so many good young English players like that, but now we are seeing some – it’s good that they are in my team.”
“I can see already that the Liverpool fans really like me, although I know that maybe they are a little upset because I don’t score,” he says. “I see they appreciate that I am working hard, though, which is nice for me. I know I have one goal in the Champions League, but in the Premier League I have to start with one. After that, I might set myself a target, but I swear – right now my first league goal is my first and only objective.”
“You ask me if I think we can finish in the top four – I hope so. But I am focused and I want to work on us winning the league, not coming in the first four places. No-one is in this competition to try and lose it, everybody plays to win, and I think Chelsea and Man City are the teams we need to aim for. We have to give our best, and whatever happens will happen, but I hope we can come very close to the Premier League title.”
Balotelli was asked to name the three best players he worked with so far in his career.
“Ibrahimovic, Figo, Pirlo,” was his response.
“I was 17 or 18 when I played with Figo at Inter, but he was still brilliant. AndPirlo is amazing – the incredible thing is that he is still getting better now. It’s an easy thing to say that we just want to keep improving as footballers , but it is not an easy thing to do.”
Balotelli also later pointed out his current Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard.
“Gerrard too, he is an amazing player. I had really not seen much of him before this season, apart from for England, but wow. I think of him as being at the same level as Pirlo. Vision, technique, but he is powerful as well. Stevie can do anything. It’s going to be very difficult for the team to find another player like him in the future.”