x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Mario Ballotelli 'could be as good as Ronaldo', insists Mancini

The Manchester City manager believes his mercurial forward has the ability to rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi - if he can focus on his football.

Manchester City's Mario Balotelli trains with teammates at Carrington ahead of the Champions League match with Real Madrid
Manchester City's Mario Balotelli trains with teammates at Carrington ahead of the Champions League match with Real Madrid

MANCHESTER // The Champions League is the private party of football's finest and as Manchester City prepare to meet Real Madrid, the theme of the build-up was global supremacy.

Carlos Tevez said that, rather than his former Manchester United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi is the planet's outstanding player and Roberto Mancini insisted that, along with Barcelona, Madrid are its pre-eminent team.

And then came the City manager's boldest suggestion, that the man who is currently his fourth-choice striker could be bracketed alongside Ronaldo and Messi among the top three footballers in the world.

Mario Balotelli is a doubt because of a back problem and, without a league goal since March, he ranks behind Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko in the queue for places.

But Mancini said: "As a player he could be like Cristiano and Messi if he understands that to be like this you should work hard, your mind should be always on your job, not on the other things that are not important.

"Sometimes he doesn't understand what is his job and how his job is important for his life. I am very sorry for him for this. I hope he can change his mind."

In contrast to Balotelli, Ronaldo's attitude is not in doubt and few argue he needs to work harder. The Portuguese was the match winner when City travelled to Madrid in September, scoring a last-minute decider in Real's 3-2 victory.

"I think Ronaldo has a big impact on every game," Mancini said. "A player that scores one or two goals every game is an incredible player."

The £80 million (Dh468m) man's scoring habit became apparent during his time in Manchester. The 2007/08 season was his first in the company of Tevez. It brought Ronaldo 42 goals and United the Champions League.

Since then he has scored 165 goals in 162 games for Madrid.

"I think it is only right if Ronaldo believe he is the best in the world," said Tevez. "Any guy who gets 37-40 goals a season has a right to believe that, but if you push me I am always going to go on the side of Messi."

Such is Ronaldo's lot in life, to be compared to a man with 78 goals for club and country this year. What is beyond doubt is that he tops the bill at the Bernabeu. But, as Mancini said, the supporting cast are not too shabby either.

He said: "It is my opinion that Real Madrid is the best team in the world with Barca and when you play against Real, you play against 11 top players: Ronaldo, [Karim] Benzema, [Angel] Di Maria, [Mesut] Ozil, Xabi Alonso. Every game they can score three or four goals."

And yet the message to City, who will be unable to progress if they do not win, is that nothing is impossible. "Football is fantastic because if you play against Barca and Real you can win," Mancini said.

 

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