No Peter Pan but Balotelli ready to fly

Controversial Manchester City striker is relishing the prospect of playing against his clubmates

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The Independent Football

Attempting to define the enigma that is Mario Balotelli has never been a pastime confined to England, and when Italy's latest offerings were put to the striker last night, it led to the bizarre response: "I am more of a man than Peter Pan."

Context is required. Daniele De Rossi, Italy's captain, this week described Balotelli (below) as an "ometto", which translates as a "little man" – a boy who is slowly becoming a man.

De Rossi believes a mature footballer is emerging from the character who once set off fireworks in his own house. Juxtaposed with earlier claims from Balotelli's agent, Mino Raiola, that his client was in fact a Peter Pan figure because the 21-year-old will never grow up, an Italian journalist sought his view on which comparison was more accurate.

"These are two metaphors for Mario the person not Mario the footballer," he said. "I think I'm a man but I don't think I need to say it. Mino said I'm Peter Pan because he wants to make people laugh. But I could be Peter Pan because I do things my own way, I'm a bit free. I could be Peter Pan but I think I'm more of a man than Peter Pan."

Balotelli made an unscheduled appearance in Italy's pre-match press conference here in the Olympic Stadium and attracted most of the attention after a typically turbulent Euro 2012.

The Manchester City forward started Italy's opening two matches before Cesare Prandelli opted to drop him for their final Group C clash against Republic of Ireland.

Balotelli came off the bench to score and had his mouth covered by team-mate Leonardo Bonucci as he celebrated, to prevent any further controversy.

But the man himself rejected suggestions he had a suspect temperament and insists he is merely acclimatising to international football before what will be his 12th cap tonight. "The national shirt has always meant a lot to me right from when I was a kid," he said. "I think that's absolutely normal. In the first few games I was very emotional because it was my first European Championships and it is normal that you have a reaction there.

"The only thing it might have been was that I hadn't scored a goal, that's why I might have got a bit worked up. But I wasn't angry, nor did I have problems with the squad itself or problems off the pitch. I have been fine.

"This is different to what your colleague said, that I have got an attitude problem, but I was absolutely fine. The only thing was that I didn't score a goal and that's it. It was an important goal I scored against Ireland because I hadn't got on the scoresheet in the past two games.

"You said I was having a problem putting the ball in the net but I didn't have any psychological problems. There is no mental block there at all."

Balotelli will face his City team-mates Joleon Lescott, Joe Hart and James Milner, and also mistakenly mentioned Gareth Barry – who pulled out of the squad with a stomach injury.

"I hope it will be a good match and it will be fun playing against my Manchester City team-mates," he said. "They know me and I know them. I just hope it is going to be fun but I want to win even if they are my team-mates and put in a good performance, and I hope they will lose."

Prandelli confirmed Thiago Motta is fit to start after a minor hamstring problem but revealed that for the first time since taking charge two years ago, he will only inform the players of the starting line-up an hour before kick-off.

"We have prepared for this game by looking at England's

previous games and what we've noticed is that England are one of the most organised European sides," said Prandelli. "They play within a space of about 40 yards so we need to make sure we stop them from playing football. If we can set the right tempo, we can play a very good game."