EXCLUSIVE: The Fiorentina defender says that while the Sassuolo striker does not have the same ability as the Liverpool forward, he “puts his soul on the field”
Manuel Pasqual believes Simone Zaza’s performances for Italy have already vindicated coach Antonio Conte’s decision to axe Mario Balotelli.
The inclusion of uncapped Sassuolo striker Zaza in the squad for the friendly with Netherlands and subsequent Euro 2016 qualifier against Norway made headlines, not least because it effectively came at the expense of Balotelli, who had led the line for the Azzurri since Euro 2012.
However, Pasqual feels that Zaza showed the kind of commitment and passion in his first two appearances for his country that Balotelli allegedly lacks.
“Mario, of course, has great quality,” the versatile left-back told Goal. “But I would like to use the words of his agent [Mino Raiola], who said this after his summer move from AC Milan to Liverpool: ‘This is the last chance for Mario to show how to be a champion and a top player.’
“Zaza certainly has fewer qualities than Balotelli in attack but he puts his soul on the field. Zaza does what Conte demands and the result is there for all to see. We won two games and he scored too [against Norway]. So that’s the difference.
“The message of Conte was that the national team berth is open to everyone and players of every age. However, you have to be enthusiastic and hard worker. You have to show us that you’re not a ‘sticker’ but a real player.
“Also, if you are enthusiastic and a hard worker, you can give top performance for the national team. You should be proud to be there and that’s Antonio’s message.”
Pasqual, of course, was left out of Cesare Prandelli’s Italy squad for this summer’s World Cup but received an immediate recall from Conte – and the Fiorentina man freely admits that he is delighted by the change of leadership.
“I was really, really sad when I wasn’t selected for the World Cup,” he confessed. “Prandelli said I would be one of his last choices for the World Cup only because I am 32.
“But I’m lucky as the new coach believes in quality of players and that it doesn’t matter what age they are. With Conte’s style of play, I think I could be useful for the national team.”