Genoa CFC v AC Milan - Serie A

Ex-teammate gives advice on how to manage Mario Balotelli


I’ve never worked the Manchester City beat, but during their recent trips to the United States, I’ve been able to see a little of Mario Ballotelli’s interactions with teammates. So like some of you (but unlike most of you), I wasn’t surprised to read that he’s generally a harmless, attention-starved kid who’s more playful than malicious. Not that he doesn’t have a huge petulant streak, and not that being playful can’t be a huge distraction. But for the most part, Mario is just a character, if an oblivious one.

At least, that’s the image former teammate James Milner portrayed recently when asked if he missed the recently sold Italian:

“I do miss him, actually,” said Milner. “He was crazy, he liked to be the centre of attention and it was like having a 12-year-old in the dressing-room at times.

“But he was a good guy, he was harmless and I hope he does well in Milan …

“You’d get those days where you’d think ‘Mario – not today, leave it out,’ but it was very hard to hate him, despite the crazy things he did.

“At times Mario would step out of line and one of the lads would tell him. If he ever did that, it would go off, but half-an-hour later he would come in and apologise.”

No news here. It’s the messenger is noteworthy. It’s one thing for a current teammate to say nice things with an eye to preserving a relationship, but Milner doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. In all likelihood, he’ll never have to share a locker room with Balotelli again, yet he persists with what many felt where obligatory platitudes.

Might Mario Balotelli be less of a distraction than we assume?

Let’s not go that far. Take this episode at a club event:

“You had to keep him busy. We did a Christmas event for some children at the ground and Mario had to wait about half-an-hour to do his bit.

“We were thinking ‘what can we do with him? He’s going to be an absolute nightmare.’ He ended up sitting in on an interview with Joe Hart for 20 minutes, then someone gave him an iPad to play Angry Birds on.

“You had to keep him occupied until it was his turn to meet the kids, but once he did he was great with them.”

That’s not ideal. You need to tend to him, and you probably need a club with a strong, veteran leadership structure in place. Who knows if Massimo Ambrosini will have this kind of patience at Milan, particularly when Balotelli will be higher in the pecking order there than he was at Manchester City.

But as Milner details, there is a way to deal with Mario, which is more than you can say for other distractions in world soccer.

EURO 2016: Who’s headed to France?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 10: Volkan Sen of Turkey in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group A Qualifier match between Czech Republic and Turkey at Letna Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualification is complete, as 20 teams have clinched a berth at EURO 2016, which kicks off next summer in France.

The top-two finishers in each group automatically qualified, as did the best third-place side out of all the groups (Turkey). France qualified automatically as the host nation.

[ MORE: EURO 2016 roundup ]

That leaves eight third-place teams to battle for the final four spots through a play-off. The draw for the matchups will take place on October 18, and those matches will be held from November 12-17 as a home-and-home play-off.

Group A

  1. Czech Republic
  2. Iceland
  3. Turkey (automatically qualified as best third-place side)

Group B

  1. Belgium
  2. Wales
  3. Bosnia and Herzegovina (qualified for play-off)

Group C

  1. Spain
  2. Slovakia
  3. Ukraine (qualified for play-off)

Group D

  1. Germany
  2. Poland
  3. Republic of Ireland (qualified for play-off)

Group E

  1. England
  2. Switzerland
  3. Slovenia (qualified for play-off)

Group F

  1. Northern Ireland
  2. Romania
  3. Hungary (qualified for play-off)

Group G

  1. Austria
  2. Russia
  3. Sweden (qualified for play-off)

Group H

  1. Italy
  2. Croatia
  3. Norway (qualified for play-off)

Group I

  1. Portugal
  2. Albania
  3. Denmark (qualified for play-off)

EURO 2016: Dutch disaster as Netherlands fail to qualify

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 13:  Robin van Persie of the Netherlands (19) reacts during the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group A match between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic at Amsterdam Arena on October 13, 2015 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship has come to a close, and one of the top teams in the world will not be playing in France next summer.

Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic

The Netherlands finished second at the 2010 World Cup and third at the 2014 World Cup, but have failed to qualify for EURO 2016. Playing in front of a home crowd in a must-win match against the Czech Republic, the Dutch got off to a dreadful start, falling behind 2-0 as manager Danny Blind was forced to make a substitution within the opening 40 minutes. The Czech Republic was sent to ten men before the break, but an own-goal from Robin Van Persie made it 3-0 as the Dutch couldn’t recover. A disastrous result for the Netherlands, as big changes will surely come from the top down.

[ RELATED: David de Gea fighting for starting goalkeeper position with Spain ]

Italy 2-1 Norway

Italy finishes atop Group H without a loss after defeating Norway 2-1 today. Norway took the lead through Norwich City’s Alexander Tettey, but late goals from Alessandro Florenzi and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle gave the Italians all three points.

Malta 0-1 Croatia

With Norway’s loss, Croatia jumped into second place in Group H and secured qualification to EURO 2016 with a 1-0 win away at Malta. Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic scored the game’s only goal, as Croatia advances despite having one point deducted due to inappropriate actions from their fans.

Elsewhere in EURO qualifying

Group A

Turkey 1-0 Iceland
Latvia 0-1 Kazakhstan

Group B

Belgium 3-1 Israel
Wales 2-0 Andorra
Cyprus 2-3 Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group H

Bulgaria 2-0 Azerbaijan