MILAN,.Italy striker Mario Balotelli said yesterday that giving him the captain’s armband would be a signal against racism in the country.
“To be captain would not change that much for me, but it would be a signal to the country,” the Nice striker told a press conference in Turin ahead of today’s friendly between Italy and the Netherlands.
“I’m in this national team to score goals. I can be an example without the captain’s armband, for the others, the African immigrants and their kids, it would be a strong signal.”
Balotelli, recalled to the national side by new coach Roberto Mancini after four years in the wilderness, has been targeted by racism on the pitch in Italy.
A racist banner during last week’s friendly game against Saudi Arabia in Switzerland read ‘Il mio capitano è di sangue italiano’ (My captain has Italian blood).
“It’s complicated, I experienced it when I was younger, and today I don’t know if it’s true racism or jealousy,” said Balotelli.
“It hurts, it’s time for Italy to become like France and England. As I wrote on social media, it’s time to wake up.”
Meanwhile, the 27-year-old said it had “hurt” to be overlooked by Italy since the 2014 World Cup.
“Four years without the national team, it hurt.
“There’s no point talking about the past now, as we have to start again and look to the future.
“Antonio Conte was right not to call me up during Euro 2016 because physically I was not in good shape. Gian Piero Ventura spoke to me about why I wasn’t called up, but I didn’t really understand his reasoning. I respect his choices.
“I have a rough idea on why he didn’t call me, but I’ll keep that to myself.”
Mancini coached Balotelli at Inter Milan and Manchester City.
“I was fortunate enough to work with him when he was just a lad,” said the coach.
“He has incredible quality and scored very important goals then. He’s the same age as my children and they’re not perfect either, because nobody is.
“Mario has quality that he has certainly thrown away to a degree over the years, but he has a long time ahead of him to make up for that.”
Balotelli will not start against the Netherlands after playing in the 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia and 3-1 defeat by France, with Torino striker Andrea Belotti starting.
The game is one between two footballing giants who have failed to qualify for the World Cup.