ROME — Mario Balotelli, the temperamental and mercurial Manchester City striker, will have an important role to play for Italy at this year’s Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.
With Villareal forward Giuseppe Rossi ruled out through injury, the 21-year-old is very likely to get the nod up front over AC Milan’s Antonio Cassano in coach Cesare Prandelli’s starting line-up.
But Prandelli knows he is taking a risk in picking Balotelli, as Italy seek to bounce back from a disappointing World Cup two years ago and a quarter-final defeat to eventual winners Spain at the last European championships four years ago.
Italy’s current team is a far cry from the golden generation of the past while its key players, like midfielder Andrea Pirlo and veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, are coming to the end of their careers.
Most of the squad would largely be described as good, solid professionals rather than world-beating talent.
But Cassano and Balotelli — for all their unpredictability — can rightly be called potential world beaters. As a result, Prandelli knows that leaving either one of them out could starve Italy of vital options up front — and the trophy. The coach will need all his man-management skills to guide both through the tournament without incident, particularly given Balotelli’s unenviable record of turning on his teammates.
On the one hand he refuses to celebrate goals and shows no nerves even in pressure-cooker situations.
At his previous club Inter Milan, he argued with teammates because he wanted to take a penalty ahead of designated taker Samuel Eto’o.
He did the same at a free-kick at Manchester City earlier this season, when Alexander Kolarov was getting ready to belt it.
Balotelli also angered former Inter coach Jose Mourinho with his lax attitude to training and apparent insolence, leading to him being barred from the first team for more than a month as his boss awaited an apology.
For all that, few deny that Balotelli is a great athlete, can shoot with searing power and has an effortless ability to play the beautiful game.
This Jekyll and Hyde character could either be Italy’s hero or their worst nightmare in June. The only way to find out which is to wait and see.