Ven­tura wary of call­ing up Balotelli

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By An­drew Dampf

ROME >> Six goals in six French league matches were not enough to con­vince Italy coach Gian Piero Ven­tura to re­store Mario Balotelli to the na­tional team.

The of­ten-di­vi­sive striker also needs to con­vince Ven­tura that he has cleaned up his act — both on and off the pitch.

“It’s not due to tech­ni­cal rea­sons that Balotelli isn’t on the na­tional team,” Ven­tura said Mon­day. “He has great skills. No­body is de­bat­ing his tech­ni­cal abil­i­ties. Rather it’s a thou­sand other fac­tors.”

Since trans­fer­ring on a free trans­fer from Liver­pool to Nice on dead­line day, Balotelli has helped the un­her­alded club to first place in France and has seven goals in eight matches in all com­pe­ti­tions.

“He’s been back in form for two months now but you can’t think that in two months some­body has changed who they are,” Ven­tura added.

Af­ter scor­ing only one league goal in each of the past two sea­sons with Liver­pool and AC Mi­lan, re­spec­tively, Balotelli never played for Italy un­der coach An­to­nio Conte.

His last ap­pear­ance for Italy came when the Az­zurri were elim­i­nated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup — where he was con­sid­ered a dis­trac­tion by sev­eral team­mates.

Balotelli was also in­volved in high-pro­file in­ci­dents when play­ing in Eng­land, no­tably when fire­works were let off dur­ing a party at his man­sion while he was play­ing for Manch­ester City.

The day af­ter the fire­work in­ci­dent he wore a t-shirt with the mes­sage: ‘Why al­ways me?’ re­fer­ring to his habit of al­ways be­ing in the spotlight. He then played bril­liantly, scor­ing twice in a 6-1 win away to Manch­ester United.

At 26 years old, Balotelli po­ten­tially has many more years as a top player.

Ven­tura said he will have a dis­cus­sion with Balotelli “to see if he has the de­sire to be a leader within the team.”

“There are an­other 2 ½ months to eval­u­ate,” the coach added, look­ing ahead to a pos­si­ble re­turn in 2017.

Mean­while, for­ward Graziano Pelle also re­mains ex­cluded af­ter re­fus­ing to shake Ven­tura’s hand fol­low­ing a sub­sti­tu­tion dur­ing a 1-1 draw with Spain last month.

“I thought it would be use­ful for him to have a pause to re­flect,” Ven­tura said of Pelle, who trans­ferred from Southamp­ton to Chi­nese club Shan­dong Luneng in July.

As for Se­bas­tian Giovinco, Ven­tura said the high-scor­ing for­ward for MLS club Toronto FC has been left out be­cause he “plays in a league that doesn’t count for much.”

Italy is train­ing for a World Cup qual­i­fier at Liecht­en­stein on Satur­day and a friendly with Ger­many three days later in Mi­lan.

Ven­tura plans to rely on the for­ward tan­dem of An­drea Belotti and Ciro Im­mo­bile — both of whom played un­der him at Torino.

Im­mo­bile has scored nine goals in 12 matches for Lazio this sea­son, while Belotti has eight in 10 for Torino.

“They’re two play­ers I don’t need to get to know. I know them per­fectly well since I coached them,” Ven­tura said. “They have a chance to take over the na­tional team.”

Manolo Gab­bia­dini, an­other for­ward, left the train­ing cen­ter with an un­de­scribed in­jury sus­tained while play­ing for Napoli at the week­end. Gian­luca La­padula, whose first Serie A goal proved the win­ner for AC Mi­lan in a 2-1 vic­tory over Palermo on Sun­day, was given his first call up as a re­place­ment.

Mid­fielder Clau­dio Marchi­sio was also sent home Mon­day with an in­jured left leg, two days af­ter be­ing called back to the na­tional team af­ter six months out with a torn cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment, which forced him to miss the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship.

Ata­lanta mid­fielder Roberto Gagliar­dini and Genoa de­fender Ar­mando Izzo were called up af­ter Marchi­sio left.

De­fend­ers Gior­gio Chiellini and An­drea Barza­gli are also out in­jured, with Ju­ven­tus an­nounc­ing Mon­day that Barza­gli will miss two months with a dis­lo­cated left shoul­der.

Italy is level on points with Group G leader Spain, one point ahead of Al­ba­nia and Is­rael, while Mace­do­nia and Liecht­en­stein are last with zero points.

Liecht­en­stein lost 8-0 to Spain in Septem­ber but the score was only 1-0 un­til the 55th minute.

“It’s a match to pre­pare very care­fully in or­der to avoid sur­prises,” Ven­tura said.

CLAUDE PARIS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Nice’s for­ward Mario Balotelli, left, con­trols the ball with Salzburg’s for­ward Marc Rza­tkowski, dur­ing the Europa League group I soc­cer match be­tween OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice sta­dium, south­east­ern France, Thurs­day.

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