Mario Balotelli’s call to retire in Italy, more than three years after his last appearance in the national team, caused a sensation at home and throughout Europe.
The 31-year-old, who now plays for Adana Demirspor in Turkey, is one of 36 players called up for a three-day retreat as Roberto Mancini chooses for a repeat of the semifinals of the March World Cup against the North Macedonia weigh-in.
The national team must win two rounds of the draw to qualify for Qatar after finishing second in qualifiers for Switzerland a few months after winning Euro 2020.
Italian football journalist Daniele Verri says Balotelli’s potential comeback, who scored 14 goals in 36 appearances, is similar to the coach’s “going back to a used car”, but he thinks “the fans need a little confidence “in Mancini.
“He can’t promise me anything, just because I can’t promise him anything,” Mancini said on Wednesday. “We’ll see if he can help.”
Balotelli has impressed this season – according to a Turkish writer, the “most disciplined and devoted” member of his team – and appears to have avoided off-screen legends.
How has it happened, how has Balotelli been successful in recent years, and is it gambling that could pay off?
Balotelli was once one of the best competitors in Europe and Balotelli won the 2010 Golden Boy Award as the best young player in the world.
Under 21 he had won three league titles, the Italian Cup and the Champions League with Inter, the Premier League, and the FA Cup with Manchester City-Italian hat-trick with Jose Mourinho and the remnants of Mancini.
He was known for his off-pitch cheating at City, but the performances were often worth it.
Balotelli was in the Euro 2012 Team of the Championship and the 2012/13 Serie A Team of the Year at AC Milan.
Then came the fall. Italy was beaten in the 2014 World Cup group when Balotelli was out of international football for four years and then scored only one Premier League goal in a terrible time with Liverpool.
He appeared to be enjoying a career resurgence at Nice in Ligue 1, with his two best league goals – 15 and 18 – and returned to the Italian suit with three appearances in Mancini’s first games.
But he has fought with Nice manager Patrick Vieira and played for four clubs in the past three years, without double numbers in the league.
He played six months with Marseille, one year with Brescia relegated from Serie A, six months with Monza in Serie B, and then a summer transfer to Turkey.
Balotelli was assisted by the newly promoted Adana Demirspor, who plays in the top flight for the first time since 1995, in fourth place.
He has scored nine points in 21 games since joining Turkey.
Yakup Cinar, the sports journalist for the Turkish newspaper Fanatik, said: “Balotelli proved with his Super League performance that he came here to play football.
“We haven’t talked much about off-screen events.
Club president Murat Sancak has previously stated that Mario Adana would prefer Demirspor to the national team, despite offers from Qatar.
I can say that at the moment he is the most disciplined and dedicated player on the team.
“Happiness and peace in the city of Adana have reopened the doors of the Italian national team to him”.
“Technically Mario is always good, it’s not a problem. You have to see where he is physical. We have lost sight of him a bit,” said Mancini.
Verri said: “Going back to Balotelli could be a step backward.
“But I think we have a certain confidence in Mancini because it was mainly thanks to him that we became European champions.”
Most of Italy’s regular players are in the 36-man squad, along with Balotelli and some unlimited players.
The Italian batting options aren’t great, as is the inclusion of Balotelli. He scored his last official goal for Italy in the 2014 World Cup against England.
He is one of two players in the 35-man squad to have scored double figures for Italy with 14, behind Lazio’s Ciro Immobile, who scored 15 goals.
“I think Mancini has the right to do it,” Verri said. “He must have the opportunity to test all the players. He knows Balotelli and what he knows how to do. There is a good relationship between the two.”