Iconic Italian footballer Andrea Pirlo believes that mercurial striker Mario Balotelli still has time to become one of the best players in the world. The 37-year-old played alongside Balotelli for the Italian national team, both having particularly stood out together at the 2012 European Championships in which the Italians reached the final.For Pirlo, that tournament has been one of many in which he has caught the imagination of the footballing world, but for Balotelli, it remains one of the few occasions when he has flickered and shown his immense talent.
Balotelli does seem to be more committed and focused on his career than he was before, but a spate of injuries and his reputation means that clubs aren’t willing to bet on him anymore. He started promisingly at Milan, on loan from Liverpool, but a slew of injuries forced him to make sporadic appearances. When he did eventually come back to the pitch, he seemed to be working harder than before but couldn’t seem to find the finesse that has so often set him apart.
Pirlo was only too keen to open up on the enigmatic 25-year-old striker, and in an interview with the Mirror, he said:
“He frustrates me, but I do have so much affection for Mario, He is infectious to be around. When I used to see him walk into training for Italy, he would have this big smile on his face – and I would just burst out laughing – and start wondering what is he thinking, what is he up to? Mario should not just be a character the media write about for good stories. We shouldn’t forget what a special player he is.”
“I have played with some of the best strikers, and I can tell you Mario has all the attributes to be one of the best strikers in the world. By now I thought that is where he would be, that is where he should be. He has no more time to waste.”
Milan didn’t show any interest in acquiring Balotelli from Liverpool, and he was only recently told by Jurgen Klopp – the Liverpool manager – that he doesn’t fit into his plans at Anfield either. Sampdoria had shown some interest in signing the Italian forward but haven’t come forward with an offer until now. Pirlo, who now plays in Major League Soccer for New York City FC, continued to remind us that Balotelli still has time on his side,
“He has played for so many big clubs, it’s easy to forget he’s only 25. He still has time to make it at the very top.”
Pirlo also insisted that Balotelli should turn down offers from the cash-laden Chinese Super League and instead focus on rebuilding his career in the next two to three years to earn a move to one of the top clubs in Europe.
“He needs to pick his next club carefully. I have read things about him and China. With all respect to their league, Mario should not be going there yet. If he has two or three good seasons at his next club, he will still only be 28 and could join one of the top clubs in Europe. I don’t have any advice for him anymore, he knows the qualities that he has. From this point, it’s up to Mario.”