Italian legend Andrea Pirlo has been speaking of his disappointment in Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli.
The pair played together for the Italian national side in the early part of this decade, and at that time Pirlo thought the world was witnessing the development of one of the best talents in Europe. He reached the height of his powers when he almost single-handedly tore Germany apart in the semi-finals of Euro 2016, but has not been able to get anywhere near those heights again.
Speaking to the Mirror, the 37-year-old New York City playmaker admitted that he had no more advice to offer Balotelli, but his affection for him remains intact:
“He frustrates me, but I do have so much affection for Mario,
“He is infectious to be around. When I used to see him walk into training for Italy, he would have this big smile on his face – and I would just burst out laughing – and start wondering what is he thinking, what is he up to?
“Mario should not just be a character the media write about for good stories. We shouldn’t forget what a special player he is.”
Balotelli has bounced between England and Italy in recent years, sealing an ill-fated £16million move to Liverpool in 2014 before returning to Milan on loan a year later. Now back at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp has made it very clear that he has no future at Liverpool and is expected to leave in the coming weeks.
Nonetheless, Pirlo still has high hopes for Balotelli, insisting that he can still become one of the best strikers in the world at the right club for him:
“I have played with some of the best strikers, and I can tell you Mario has all the attributes to be one of the best strikers in the world.
“By now I thought that is where he would be, that is where he should be. He has no more time to waste.
“He has played for so many big clubs, it’s easy to forget he’s only 25,
“He still has time to make it at the very top. He needs to pick his next club carefully.
“If he has two or three good seasons at his next club, he will still only be 28 and could join one of the top clubs in Europe.”
With a move to China failing to materialise, Balotelli is likely to return to Serie A once again as he looks to get his career back on track.
Despite his relatively young age and Prirlo’s optimism, however, he is rapidly running out of time to prove that he can be a top quality striker.