Mancini to talk to Mario Balotelli about Italy return
ROME (AP) — Italy coach Roberto Mancini plans to talk to long-excluded striker Mario Balotelli about a possible return to the national team as he attempts to rebuild a squad that failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.
Balotelli has not played for Italy since the 2014 World Cup, but he featured under Mancini at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.
“Mario is an Italian player. We’ll definitely consider him and we’ll probably call him,” Mancini said at his presentation on Tuesday. “He’s one of those players who we want to see back in the form he showed at the (2012) European Championship with (former Italy coach Cesare) Prandelli.”
At Euro 2012, Balotelli’s goals helped Italy reach the final. He scored 13 goals in 33 appearances for the Azzurri and at 27 is coming off a strong season in France with Nice.
Mancini signed a two-year contract with an option to stay on through the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He will reportedly earn 2 million euros ($2.4 million) per season, accepting a massive pay cut compared to what he earned at Zenit St. Petersburg, his most recent job.
Mancini left Zenit on Monday by mutual consent.
“He gave up significant financial opportunities to do so,” Italian soccer federation extraordinary commissioner Roberto Fabbricini said. “This is testimony to his complete determination and desire to take on this job.”
Mancini has his sights set on the 2020 European Championship.
“We haven’t won the Euros in many years (Italy’s only title came in 1968) and that, apart from the Nations League, will be the principal goal,” Mancini said.
Mancini is replacing Gian Piero Ventura, who was fired in November after four-time champion Italy lost a World Cup playoff to Sweden.
“I think that it’s the right moment for me. It’s a difficult time and there’s a lot to do,” Mancini said at the national team’s training center in Florence. “I want to bring Italy back to where it belongs — on top of the world and Europe.”
With calls to bring in younger players to the national team, Mancini supports a youth movement.
“It’s important that the players who reach the national team do it with heart, because every young player dreams of reaching this squad,” Mancini said. “There will be space for everyone who plays well but we’ve got to also build for the upcoming years, so age will count.
“But if the ‘veterans’ like (Daniele) De Rossi are still the best when we have to play big matches then they will be called up.”
Mancini, a former Italy player, has coached Fiorentina, Lazio, Inter, City and Galatasaray to titles. However, his Zenit team finished the Russian league in a disappointing fifth place.
Mancini will make his debut in a friendly against Saudi Arabia in Switzerland on May 28, ahead of more friendlies against France and the Netherlands. His first official match will come in the new Nations League in September.
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