Football Italiano’s 500@five – Is Balotelli ready for the national team?

A lot has been said this week about Mario Balotelli’s inclusion to the Azzurri for the trip to South Africa this summer. We explore the dilemma that Marcello Lippi faces before he names his squad for the World Cup.


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The past few days have been filled by the media speculating about the players Marcello Lippi must take with him for the World Cup in June. Italy’s goalless draw with Cameroon was seen as yet another failure of Lippi’s national team setup. In fact Lippi himself got fed up of all the media scrutiny and compared the actions of journalists to “political propaganda”. One name that has been mentioned time and over again has been that of 19 year-old Inter starlet, Mario Balotelli. The calls for Balotelli to join the national team have been frequent, but what makes them unique this time is that even the Italian coaches and officials have joined in the chorus of voices. Lippi however seems unlikely to cede to the growing pressure as he stated that “Balotelli is the future of the national team”, giving the strongest hint that the Nerazzurro will not be going to South Africa.

Balotelli, however, seems confident about joining the Azzurri as he placed a friendly wager on the comedy show Le Iene about his appearance at the World Cup this week. SuperMario has never been shy of his ambitions and his confidence in his own abilities must be appreciated, but it may be wise for him to wait for some time. The Italians are not having the best of time it must be said on the international stage. The team has now scored only once in their previous three games (Netherlands, Sweden, Cameroon) and the attack is looking more impotent than ever. The absence of a playmaker in the squad is an area that Lippi is trying to fix but Andrea Cossu’s performance against Cameroon is definitely not the answer to his problems. Cossu is an intelligent footballer and has improved steadily at Cagliari but it is unlikely he will be able to hold his own against top quality opposition.

Francesco Totti is hence being seen as a savior throughout the peninsula, but the Roma captain’s injury problems make his return very complicated. In such circumstances, if Balotelli is drafted into the squad he will be placed under tremendous expectation and pressure. One needs to keep in mind that the boy is all of 19 years of age and his temperamental problems have indicated his lack of maturity. Balotelli’s talent is undeniable and as the Italian U-21 coach, Pierluigi Casiraghi put it, “He is player who has nothing ‘normal’ about him”. His performances at the top level for Inter have shown that he can certainly compete alongside the best, but with the Azzurri we are talking about a different ball game entirely.

Many players from within the national team do not see eye-to-eye with the youngster and this is bound to cause friction within the squad. Balotelli’s attitude problems are also well documented and even at Inter you see at times that his team-mates refuse to pass the ball to him, simply because he keeps it for too long. Lippi has never been the kind of coach to center his team around one individual and it is incredibly difficult to see Balo being incorporated into his system. For all the wagers and the rhetoric, one must also realise that should SuperMario go to the World Cup and fail to deliver up to his unrealistic expectations he will be castigated by everyone. The problems in the current Italian squad are not going to be solved by one individual alone and it would be unfair to elevate a 19 year-old to that status. It might prove to be the best for everyone, to just let the World Cup pass and turn over a new page with a new manager at the helm of the Azzurri.

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