(Reuters) – Italy coach Roberto Mancini has said he will only call up Mario Balotelli if he deserves it for football reasons, not to make a statement against racism.
Balotelli, who has not played for Italy since September 2018, kicked the ball towards opposition fans and threatened to walk off the pitch after being subjected to racist insults from the crowd during Brescia’s Serie A match against Hellas Verona earlier this month.
“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 soccer 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.
“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 Bosnia and Herzegovina on Friday would give them a 10th consecutive win.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)