So how ‘Super’ is Mario?

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The Italian press were full of criticism of the striker following his ineffective and lacklustre display in the loss to South American group rivals Uruguay.

His poor first-half performance forced the now-resigned Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli to take his talisman off at half time, as leading Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport labelled the Milan forward “a big flop”.

Current and former players slam Balotelli

Team mates Gianluigi Buffon and midfielder Daniele de Rossi also took pot-shots at the maverick player after the game, the Italy captain of the opinion that the younger squad players let Italy down at this year’s Mundial, while de Rossi slammed his team mate more directly, saying, "We need real men, not Panini stickers or characters. These are of no use.”

Former players, both young and old, jumped on the band wagon as well.

Former Italy international Salvatore Schillaci – a hero for Italy at the 1990 World Cup - had nothing good to say about Balotelli’s World Cup campaign.

“Balotelli is not a champion. He is a young player who can give a great deal, but when he plays he always looks like he doesn’t care,” said the 49-year-old.

“This is not the attitude of a champion and it was wrong to rely on him.”

Mauro Camoranesi, a winner with the Azzurri at the 2006 World Cup, was equally scathing of the striker.

“I firmly believe Balotelli is a very over-rated player, both by the media and those who train him,” said the former Juventus star.

“It really infuriates me to see someone on the pitch who isn’t working as hard as he ought to. I really don’t know what his problem is.”

Balotelli responds

Just hours after Italy’s exit from the tournament, Balotelli himself posted an emotional response to the heavy criticism he endured after the game.

"I was really motivated for this World Cup and I'm sad, angry and disappointed with myself," Balotelli posted on his Instagram account.

"Sure, maybe I could have scored against Costa Rica. You're right but so what?"

"I'm not going to allow the blame to be placed only on me this time because Mario Balotelli gave his all for the national team and didn't do anything wrong (character-wise)," he continued.

"So look for another excuse because Mario Balotelli ... is prepared to move forward stronger than before and with his head held high, honored to have given his all for his country."

Balotelli’s agent Mino Raiola admitted that ‘Super Mario’ was left “sad” and “depressed”, while revealing the weight of expectation on the young player may have been too much.

“He’s subjected to incredible pressures. Italy has it all on him,” said the agent.

Club future

Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani was quick to jump to his player’s defence, telling reporters, “I don’t understand why Balotelli is the only one who’s being criticized.

“He’s the only striker that scored a goal and created chances.

“Evidently, he’s the only quality player of the national team because he’s the only one that is being discussed.”

However, it seems his club does not fully back their front man, who scored 18 goals in 41 appearances in the red and black this season.

Joint vice-president Barbara Berlusconi, daughter of Milan president Silvio Berlusconi, stated earlier in the week, “He [Balotelli] is a great player and he’s very talented, but nobody is irreplaceable”, hinting at a possible move away from the club.

A switch to Premier League club Arsenal seemed on the cards last week, however Wenger squashed the rumours, saying, “"No - no, that's pure invention. It’s not true.”

Co-incidentally, Wenger’s comments came after Balotelli’s dismal last game in Brazil.

Galliani has since indicated that the 23-year-old will remain at Milan, yet with the Serie A heavyweights not involved in any European competition next season, Balotelli might want to re-evaluate his options, despite the three years left on his current deal.

Yet no matter where he turns out, it is clear Balotelli’s first World Cup was a tournament to forget for the controversial forward. His potential and undeniable talent is plain to see, yet his attitude, mannerisms and off-the-field antics make him an easy target.

How Super Mario will respond on the field next season is anyone’s guess.

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