Mario Balotelli branded 'an imbecile' for refusing to rule out links with Italian mafia ahead of World Cup qualifier between Italy and Armenia

The former Manchester City striker took to Twitter to respond to a report which praised him as an anti-mafia figure

Italian football’s bad boy Mario Balotelli has been called “an imbecile” by a leading anti-mob campaigner after again hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons.

The AC Milan striker has provoked a storm by appearing to distance himself from an anti-mafia campaign involving a charity match in a ground sequestered from the Camorra, the notorious Naples crime syndicate.

The story has legs because Balotelli had already come under fire for hanging out with a couple of Naples mobsters, in the drug-devastated northern district of Scampia. As a result, he was accused of glamourising the criminal organisation – in 2011, prosecutors questioned Balotelli about his trip.

On Sunday, the popular sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport suggested the 23-year-old former Manchester City play was keen to appear at La Nuova Quarto Calcio club, in order to publicly endorse the fight against the mafia. The club was run by Camorra kingpin Giuseppe Polverino, before it was seized by law enforcement agencies.

But on his Twitter account, Balotelli rebutted La Gazzetta’s article. “This is what you say!” he said. “I’m coming because soccer is wonderful and everyone must (be able to) play it where they want and there is the match (against Armenia)!!!”.

Aniello Manganiello, a prominent anti-Camorra priest, said it raised doubts about whether the player should be able to represent the national team. The Senator and anti-mafia campaigner Rosaria Capacchione called the controversial star “an imbecile” and a “silly, spoilt child”.

On Sunday the striker tried to push to the ground the equipment being used by a cameraman filming his arrival in Naples.