In 2010, a fresh-faced striker who had recently signed for Manchester City declared that only Lionel Messi was a better player than himself.
Six years on and the gap between Mario Balotelli and Messi couldn’t be wider.
Balotelli’s cocksure attitude has been replaced by that of a player who is aware his career has little direction, and in a recent interview with Goal, he acknowledged that the Barcelona magician is on an entirely different level.
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The Italian failed to make the Azzurri’s squad for Euro 2016, such was his indifferent form at AC Milan this season, and so he can now only speak of Messi and his rival Cristiano Ronaldo as the rest of us do; as two superheroes doing things that will unlikely be repeated for decades.
Balotelli, who looks set to leave Liverpool this summer, offered his opinion on the two forwards and it was his view on Ronaldo that provided the most interesting soundbite.
If he could choose to have the attributes of either player, Balotelli admitted that he would lean towards Ronaldo due to the Real Madrid star’s athletic style.
“I think Cristiano Ronaldo is like an athlete, so he’s the kind of player I like,” Balotelli said. “He can shoot with the right, the left, his head. He’s very fast, his resistance is amazing. He’s more the kind of player I’d like to put myself close to.
“Messi… you can’t put him in a list. He’s something different. Nothing against Ronaldo, but you can’t put Messi into a classification.”
Ronaldo is a freak of nature
That has very often been the view of Ronaldo and Messi. The 31-year-old is a freak of nature but the Argentine, so deft and silky, is nothing like football has seen since Diego Maradona.
Balotelli continued to praise Ronaldo, adding: “He’s an amazing professional player. I like him as an athlete. He’s very good and it’s nice to see him play, I like athleticism and he’s the perfect athlete.
“His quality is amazing, so he’s a very top quality player.”
Balotelli: Ronaldo feels stressed for Portugal
Ronaldo will begin his Euro 2016 campaign today when Portugal take on Iceland. Like Messi, the former Manchester United player has been unable to replicate his performances for his national side and Balotelli thinks Ronaldo might feel too much pressure to perform.
“From what I saw, I saw Ronaldo playing - and I’m not going to give advice to him because he’s there and I’m here - but when I play for Italy, something came outside from my inside,” Balotelli said.
“When I was on the pitch I was relaxed and I transformed this energy into good energy.
“Maybe he transformed his energy into stress or in responsibility and it became negative energy after. And the play I saw with United or Real Madrid wasn’t the same one with Portugal.
“Maybe if he can transform this energy into good energy he can score 10 goals in the Euros.”