Conte explains out-of-form Balotelli call-up to Italy squad

The striker has failed to score once in the Premier League since joining Liverpool and had been left out of previous Azzurri teams, but the coach wants to judge his quality

Italy boss Antonio Conte has revealed his reasoning behind calling up out-of-form striker Mario Balotelli: he wants to personally see how good the Liverpool star is first-hand.

Balotelli is yet to score in the Premier League since his €20 million move from AC Milan to Anfield, although he has netted twice in cup competitions.

Conte had omitted the 24-year-old from his first two squads, triggering some suggestions that he would be cast into the Azzurri wilderness under the new trainer’s reign, however he named him in his 26-man squad to face Croatia and Albania in the international break over the next 10 days.

The former Juventus coach has explained that he has brought Balotelli back into the fold to evaluate him in comparison to his other attacking options as he looks to forge a top squad with Euro 2016 a year and a half away.

“The simple answer is that Italy, after the disappointment of the World Cup, are trying to build something beautiful that we can bring to our qualification campaign and hopefully a good European Championship,” he told reporters on Monday.

“It was planned that Balotelli would be called to be evaluated, because you cannot judge [players] on hearsay. Surely it’s right that we assess him closely.

“I prefer to evaluate players because it’s right to test them and see whether they share any technical and tactical similarities with my idea of the game and their attitude.

“He plays as a starter for Liverpool, many other players aren’t even starters. Perhaps it’s for the best that he doesn’t come during good form. He’ll be available for the national team and I’ll be looking at him closely.

“The same goes for Alessio Cerci. They both have assets but are finding it hard abroad, and it’s my duty as a coach to assess what they can give to the national team.

“Excluding players from the outset seems nonsensical to me. Here, all the players are equal, Mario is one of five attackers. If he is good, he will play, otherwise he is on the bench or in the stands.”

Should Balotelli feature for Italy over the next fortnight, it will be his first international appearances since the World Cup in the summer when Italy were embarrassingly knocked out at the group stage.

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