MILAN (AFP) – Italy coach Roberto Mancini said he would not name Mario Balotelli (pic below) in a national squad simply to make a statement against racism.
“When I call Mario Balotelli it will be because he deserves it, not because of the colour of his skin,” Mancini told a press conference before the Azzurri’s final Euro 2020 qualifiers.
“I know Mario and I love him. Remember, I got Mario to play when he was a boy, so I know him really well.”
Balotelli was the victim of racist abuse by Verona fans while playing for Brescia last weekend, and Italian Football Federation President Gabriele Gravina had suggested calling up the striker would send “an extraordinary message”.
But the 29-year-old missed out on a return to the international fold for the first time in a year when Mancini named his squad last Friday.
“Football must unite and not destroy,” continued Mancini, who coached Balotelli at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.
“Balotelli is a player I love and is still at an age to do a lot. If he was to be called back it would be because he is useful for the national team, not to send a message.
“We called up some young players because from now until March we won’t have the chance to see them in action.”
Italy, who have already qualified for next year’s European Championship, face Bosnia and Herzegovina on Friday before hosting Armenia three days later.
Balotelli has scored two goals in six league appearances since returning to Italy with Brescia after a spell at French club Marseille.
He has found the net 14 times in 36 international appearances since making his Azzurri debut in 2010.
Mancini has handed maiden call-ups to Brescia defender Andrea Cistana, Fiorentina midfielder Gaetano Castrovilli and Bologna forward Riccardo Orsolini.
Balotelli’s Brescia teammate Sandro Tonali meanwhile was called up on Monday in place of Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti.
AS Roma defender Leonardo Spinazzola and Sassuolo striker Domenico Berardi have also all been ruled out, but were not replaced.
Tonali made his senior international debut on October 15 against Liechtenstein, and scored his first Serie A goal on October 26.