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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Roberto Mancini: 'When I call Mario Balotelli it will be because he deserves it, not because of the colour of his skin'

Italy manager says Brescia striker will only earn a recall on merit after being on the receiving end of racist abuse from Hellas Verona fans

Italy manager Roberto Mancini says Mario Balotelli will only be recalled to the squad on merit, not to make a statement against racism.

Balotelli has been omitted from the Italy squad for their upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Armenia and has not represented the Azzurri since September 2018.

He made headlines last week for his reaction to Hellas Veronas fans during a Serie A match earlier this month. The Brescia striker kicked the ball towards opposition fans and threatened to walk off the pitch after being subjected to racist insults from the crowd.

A group of local councillors in Verona requested the city government take action against Balotelli after he accused the town's football fans of racism during the match.

Mancini and Balotelli's association goes back to their days at Inter Milan more than a decade ago when the former nurtured the latter into the first team.

Mancini then signed his compatriot for Manchester City in 2010.

"When I call Mario Balotelli it will be because he deserves it, not because of the colour of his skin," Mancini told a news conference.

"I know Mario and I love him. Remember, I got Mario to play when he was a boy, so I know him really well."

Italian Football Federation president Gabriele Gravina said last week that naming Balotelli in the squad would send a strong message against racism, but Mancini said the player had not done enough on the pitch to deserve a recall.

Since joining Brescia in the summer from Marseille, Balotelli, 29, has scored twice in six league games as the club sit bottom of Serie A on seven points from 11 games.

"You can think like the president said, but you need to understand that if Balotelli gets another chance, it will be because he deserves it from a technical point of view," Mancini added.

Racism has been a problem in Serie A in recent months.

Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku was abused by Cagliari fans in September and a game was briefly suspended when Fiorentina defender Dalbert said he had been racially abused by Atalanta supporters.

Italy have already qualified for next year's European Championship but victory away to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Friday would give them a 10th consecutive win under Mancini, a national team record.

Updated: November 12, 2019 03:28 PM