Italy coach: Balotelli can rejoin national team if he scores 25 goals

Mario Balotelli, who recently returned to Serie A, sits on the bench during a French League One soccer match between Olympique Marseille and Lille on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Claude Paris/AP)

YEREVAN, Armenia — Italy coach Roberto Mancini says Mario Balotelli needs to have “a big season” to have any chance of returning to the national team.

Balotelli recently returned to Serie A with Brescia, his hometown club, but his season hasn’t started yet as he serves a four-match ban.

Speaking to Italian state TV Rai ahead of Italy’s European Championship qualifier in Armenia on Thursday, Mancini says: “I hope he can see returning to his hometown as an opportunity to totally relaunch his career. He is 29 years old and should be at his peak. A player of his quality cannot totally lose everything he showed over the years. It depends on him.”

Mancini adds: “If Mario scores 25 goals, presses opponents, works with the team and does everything that a 29-year-old should do, then I think he could have a chance for Italy. However, it’s important for him that he has a big season.”

Mancini coached Balotelli at Manchester City and included the striker in his first two Italy squads, giving him his first two caps since the 2014 World Cup, but the forward has not been called up in a year.

Balotelli has scored 14 goals in 36 appearances for the Azzurri.

The four-match ban stems from a straight red card in Balotelli’s final game for Marseille against Montpellier in May.

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