The impetuous teenage striker Mario Balotelli paid the price for not following the orders of Jose Mourinho, the Inter Milan coach, when he was substituted midway through the second half of the 1-0 Coppa Italia semi-final first leg victory over Fiorentina. Balotelli, who has been the victim of racist taunts from rival fans this season, had set up the only goal of the game and had a header cleared off the line in the first half. But he paid for a temper tantrum midway through the second when he was hauled off for failing to get back and defend a Fiorentina corner.
Balotelli had been hurt in an aerial challenge and went down onto his knees clutching his face as Fiorentina counter-attacked. Despite Mourinho's pleas from the sideline, Balotelli did not go back to defend but eventually got up and threw his gloves to the ground before trudging back. Mourinho had seen enough and replaced the youngster with midfielder Thiago Motta but Balotelli did not take that well and stormed off down the tunnel to the changing rooms, muttering to himself all the way.
But Mourinho said: "Mario also has defensive responsibilities, he knows that and he has to see them through right to the end. "No kind of problem, from an ailment to the loss of a contact lens can prevent you from getting back to cover. In my system players always have to defend, even when they have problems, if they've hurt themselves or have lost a contact lens. "First they must defend and then they can deal with the other problems. At times the team must be more important than anything else. If Balotelli got angry that's his problem, I'm the coach and I decide what changes to make."
Mourinho also hit out at Italian football chiefs over the scheduling of the Coppa Italia this season. It is a competition that has often been treated with little respect by clubs who put out virtual reserve sides. But even the authorities seem to have treated it with disdain this season as they scheduled two quarter-final ties on the same pitch on successive days and now the second leg of the semi-finals will not be played for another two months.
"Maybe, rather than going to Coverciano [the Italian Football headquarters] for a chat about things that don't interest anyone, the most important people in Italian football should talk about the Italian Cup to understand whether to end it or to do something to make it more important," said Mourinho. Cesare Prandelli, the Fiorentina coach, suggested the competition could start sooner in the year. "During a World Cup year there was some superficiality in forming the calendar. Maybe the Coppa Italia could start in the summer given that during this period we play dozens of pointless friendlies," he said.
* With agencies