Soccer: Balotelli at centre of fresh storm
Forward distances self from role as anti-mafia symbol14 October, 17:08
On Sunday the Azzurri's star striker tried to push to the ground the equipment being used by a cameraman who was part of a media scrum filming his arrival in Naples, where Italy face Armenia on Tuesday.
The AC Milan player, whose career has been dogged by a long series of incidents of indiscipline, also raised eyebrows by appearing to distance himself from a role attributed to him as a symbol in the fight against organised crime.
Daily newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport ran a headline Sunday saying the 23-year-old would be in Naples despite having a cold and missing Friday's 2-2 draw with Denmark due to a thigh problem because he wanted to be a role model against the Naples mafia, the Camorra.
Monday's training session took place at grounds seized from a club infiltrated by the Camorra.
Balotelli used his Twitter account, @FinallyMario, to deny Gazzetta's version.
"This is what you say!," he commented in a tweet with a link to a photo of the headline. "I'm coming because soccer is wonderful and everyone must (be able to) play it where they want and there is the match (against Armenia)!!!".
The comments raised questions about why Balotelli would want to disassociate himself from anti-mafia positions.
In September 2011 Balotelli was called for questioning by prosecutors after a visit he made in 2010 to Scampia, a Naples neighbourhood that is notorious for drug trafficking and other Camorra activities. "More caution is needed, every communication is read in different ways," Giancarlo Abete, the head of the Italian Soccer Federation (FIGC), said on Italian radio Monday. "You cannot write words that can be interpreted in many different ways".
Abete also stressed, however, that the media attention devoted to Balotelli was excessive and that he was in "the eye of the hurricane". Balotelli was given a warm reception from the fans at Monday's training session.
But many were unimpressed by his tweet.
Aniello Manganiello, a prominent anti-Camorra priest, said it raised doubts about whether the player should be able to represent the national team. Rosaria Capacchione, a Senator for Premier Enrico Letta's Democratic Party (PD) who was at the training session, said she thought Balotelli was an "imbecile" when she heard about the tweet. "It wasn't that surprising after his visit to Scampia," added Capacchione, who is also journalist and has a police escort after death threats due to her reports on the Camorra.
"Half of it is naivety, the other half is the arrogance of someone who lives in the north (of Italy), far away, and doesn't know the problem". Last week Italy coach Cesare Prandelli backed Mario Balotelli, saying the thought of leaving him out of his World Cup squad would be "unthinkable".
Prandelli called him up for Italy's last two World Cup qualifiers, against Denmark and Armenia, despite him getting a three-match ban in Serie A for abusing a referee in a Milan defeat to Napoli last month.
The coach had been expected by some to drop the player in accordance with the national team's code of conduct, as he has in the past.
At the time Prandelli said he was "convinced that Mario won't do anything out of the ordinary from now on and he'll arrive at the World Cup ready".
Prandelli's side had already qualified for the World Cup before this set of qualifiers. But they are hoping to beat Armenia to strengthen their position in the world ranking - the Azzurri are currently fourth - in order to be among the seeded sides at the World Cup.