Brazil superstar Neymar has revealed his admiration for his Italian counterpart Mario Balotelli and admitted he would love to be friends with the controversy-courting striker.
Brazil and Italy are set to meet in the Confederations Cup on June 22 and the new £50million Barcelona signing believes Balotelli is “a wonderful player”.
“I’d love to become his friend. Balotelli is a great guy and a wonderful player. I often watch him on television with great pleasure,” said Neymar.
“He is a real talent and has genuine quality. I hope to speak to him, maybe after Italy v Brazil. I’d love to become his friend.”
It should be quite a meeting between two of the most high profile young stars in world football today, though Balotelli’s fame is equally for his antics off the pitch.
The 22-year-old moved from Manchester City to AC Milan in January after two-and-a-half seasons of headlines describing bizarre behaviour off the pitch, while performances on the pitch were failing to regularly convince.
Since Balotelli returned to Italy in a £19million deal, however, his form transformed and he was a key figure in the Rossoneri clawing their way back into the Serie A Champions League places.
Neymar has been billed as the next saviour of Brazilian football and the new Seleção number ten has a daunting task ahead of him once the tournament is over.
He must navigate his first season at Barcelona playing alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, before then carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations on his shoulders when brazil host the World Cup in 2014.
Despite both Neymar and Balotelli being lauded as two of the brightest young stars in the world at the moment, some people are not quite yet convinced.
Brazil legend Zico feels he is hearing too much about the pair’s off-field life and wants them to concentrate on becoming the best players they can be before worrying about a partying lifestyle.
“Neymar and Balotelli have the same problem – they spend too much time on their activities off the pitch," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"In my day, players were only thinking about publicity during their holidays or on rest days
“Nowadays they are always clubbing and looking to entertain themselves; Neymar is dragging himself from one show to another.
"Balotelli is a great player, though, although he must learn to control his temper. Opponents will always try to provoke him,” added the former Brazil coach.
"He is a very intelligent player on the pitch and can carry the team; I don't think he is overrated.
“He's not a phenomenon yet, but he could become one. He has the potential to become one of the best players in the world – it's all down to him."