Mourinho talks Balotelli and Xavi
Mario Balotelli is to be given one more chance by Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho, after he left a negative mark on an otherwise successful evening at the San Siro last night. The Italian youngster came on as a substitute as Diego Milito left the field with cramp in the closing stages of I Nerazzurri's impressive 3-1 win over holders Barcelona in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final.
But he infuriated the home fans, first by giving away possession unnecessarily and then by making a provocative gesture towards them after a wayward shot. At the end of the game, Balotelli threw his Inter shirt to the floor in disgust and left the pitch without joining in with the rest of the team's celebrations.
For many an Inter fan, this was the final straw after numerous outbursts from the player, but Mourinho has yet to give up on the 19-year-old despite his clear anger at yet another unsavoury incident. "I am sorry that the fans were like that with Balotelli," said the Portuguese.
"I always want my fans to be with my players right to the end. But, in the end, I can understand them because they saw the same thing as me. They saw a team which was dead, exhausted after all their efforts.
"(Goran) Pandev had cramp. I couldn't make any more changes. The team was destructed and then you see (Cristian) Chivu come on and do everything, (Dejan) Stankovic come on and do everything, and then Mario comes on with this attitude."
Balotelli has already infuriated club bosses by declaring himself an AC Milan fan and wearing a Rossoneri shirt for a television gag. He was even present at Milan's Champions League game against Manchester United earlier this year, showing his true affection, and has regularly displayed a short fuse on the field, making him the target of abuse from visiting fans.
Now the home fans have also turned on him, and Mourinho claims he saw this coming. "Nearly all of you for the last two years have been saying that what he does is normal," he said. "And then there is just this idiot of a coach who says it is not normal. The coach takes all the flak - I can't motivate him, I can't educate him, this or that, next year it's best if Mourinho goes and not Balotelli.
"And then, in the second most important match in the world at club football level, all of my team leave the field dead and one player could have done a little bit more to help the team who was in danger. The fans wanted more, his team-mates wanted more, and he did not give it. And then that thing with his shirt. Full stop."
But, while Mourinho was quick to draw a line under the incident last night, he will hang out yet another olive branch to the Italy U-21 international against Atalanta on Saturday - and he hopes the fans will do too.
"On Saturday we have another game, and he will play," said the 47-year-old. "It is not a problem for me and I expect the fans to give him the chance to demonstrate that he is with us and can help the team, and that he has learned today that to play football at the highest level, you have to play in a certain manner."
Club president Massimo Moratti also expects the experience to bring out the best in Balotelli, although this could well be his last chance with Inter. "This is the lesson of a lifetime that could be useful to him," the club's chief said.
The incident slightly marred Inter's 3-1 win over Barça, which put the Serie A heavyweights within touching distance of their first Champions League final. Mourinho also diffused a rumoured row with Xavi in the tunnel after the game. The Portuguese is reported to have labelled the Spain midfielder a bad loser and, although the former neither confirmed nor denied that, he hinted something along those lines had been said.
"I think it is very hard to lose, especially for somebody who is not used to losing," Mourinho said. "Even I am like this. It is the characteristic of somebody who almost always wins.
"For a team which is used to always winning, it is not easy. But this is football. I love Xavi and can never have any problems with him. I have known him for so long and love him. There can never be a problem between us. He is fantastic."