Balotelli is a mystery to us all, admits Prandelli


Click to follow

It was the moment when the Italian team showed what they thought of Mario Balotelli – an uncertain kind of love.

When the Manchester City striker ran towards the bench after scoring his first goal of the tournament against Ireland, the Juventus defender, Leonardo Bonucci, placed his hand over his mouth to mask whatever he was trying to say. This was despite admitting that, since Balotelli was speaking English, he had no idea what he was talking about or to whom.

There was a brief argument with Thiago Motta, who must have thought Balotelli was trying to get himself sent off, and then what he needed most: a few hugs.

"I have no idea if he was giving vent to his feelings about being named on the bench for the Ireland game," said his manager, Cesare Prandelli. "I haven't asked him about it because I don't want to spoil the moment for him.

Prandelli seemed to suggest that many of his players did not really know what to make of Balotelli.

"The spirit of the squad is important," he said. "All the players here have to give it their all. Nobody in our team wishes him ill; he has to understand that we are here to help him become a true champion.

"What Bonucci did was typical of our squad, his first thoughts were that Mario was going to get into trouble and he needed to protect him.

"Look, Mario is a golden boy but he has to make a real jump in quality if he is going to become a champion.

"He has got to learn to accept criticism or a place on the bench – and, if he doesn't, the squad is going to become a little more closed off to him."