Mario Balotelli 'must focus on football,' says Roberto Mancini

    (CNN)Mario Balotelli is the biggest enigma in world football -- his prodigious talent earned him the nickname "Super Mario" but his often bizarre behavior on and off the pitch has led many to question if he will ever fulfill his great potential.

    "I think that it's important that Mario starts -- or restarts -- to think only about football. Not the other things that are around him," his former mentor Roberto Mancini told CNN World Sport.
    "It depends on Mario. If Mario wants to do it, he can do it."
      Balotelli's return to the English Premier League with Liverpool has been notable more for his struggles on the field than his fireworks off it -- one of many notorious incidents widely reported during his time at Manchester City under manager Mancini.
      The 24-year-old has been reduced to a largely peripheral role since a $23 million move from AC Milan in August, scoring just four times in 24 appearances.
      If he recovers from illness for Sunday's crunch clash with Liverpool's fierce northwest rival Manchester United -- a match which may have a large bearing on either team's chances of qualifying for the European Champions League -- the striker is likely to once again start on the substitutes' bench.
      "I hope that they can do a good job with Mario because I think they spent a lot of money for him," Mancini said of the Italy international.
      "Mario has a big chance because he plays for a top club like Liverpool. He has a good manager. He can play again in the Premier League -- that, for me, is one of the best championships in the world. And I don't think that he can lose this chance, because Liverpool is a top club, and Mario is a top player."
      Mancini gave Balotelli his first-team debut as a 17-year-old at Inter Milan, where he won three Italian league titles and a Champions League crown before a falling-out with coach Jose Mourinho led to his departure to England.
      Mancini's patience was tested by Balotelli at City, where they had a training-ground bust-up in January 2013, the season after winning the Premier League title, but the 50-year-old insists there are no hard feelings.
      "I gave him the chance to play in the first team when he was really young, and for this reason I know him very well. Mario has the same age as my boy. For this reason, I love him," said Mancini, whose son Filippo was once also on the books at City and Inter.
      "Mario is a good guy. Maybe sometimes because he is young he can have not very good behavior. But it's normal for a young guy. Maybe sometimes when you are young, you can make a mistake, like Mario. But Mario, his heart is very big."
      Mancini, who returned to Inter in November with the charge of restoring the club's former glories, believes Balotelli has a future at Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers, a young manager with a growing reputation.
      "I know Brendan very well. And he's a good man, he's a good manager, and probably after eight months he knows Mario very well," said the 50-year-old.
      "At the same time, he needs to think also of the whole team, not only Mario. And at the moment he's on the bench and maybe he's doesn't play a lot.
      "I think that's because Brendan thinks it's right like this. But at the same time, I think that Brendan in his mind knows that Mario could be an important player for Liverpool."
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      Javier Zanetti, who was Inter's captain under Mancini and Mourinho, believes Balotelli can still go on to greater things.
      "With Mario, we accomplished very important things. I think that when he was with us, he was very young," the 41-year-old, who is now vice-president at the club after two decades as a player at the San Siro, told CNN.
      "Surely he still has a lot of things to give. I hope he is going to find the correct path, because he can make an amazing career.
      "Mario wasn't aware of his qualities and he realized too late once he was out of Inter. Mario is a guy that everybody loved, everybody here tried to protect him because we knew that if we did, he could have a great career."
      Zanetti hopes that Inter's latest young striking talent, 22-year-old Mauro Icardi, will stay at the club despite being linked with a move to England.
      "Icardi is very young, he has a lot of potential and he's a great striker. He has a bright future on the horizon and hopefully he will stay on this track," Zanetti said of his fellow Argentine, who has scored 20 goals in 37 games this season and is joint top in Serie A with 15.
      "I believe that in this squad, he has a crucial role to play and I'm sure it's going to be like that in the future as well. We need to protect him, we need to teach him. He needs to realize he's at a great club like Inter Milan and by doing this he will always do better."
      Roberto Mancini and Javier Zanetti were interviewed as part of CNN World Sport's in-depth look at Inter Milan. For more on the "Nerazzurri," including an interview with hot-shot striker Mauro Icardi, keep watching CNN in the coming weeks.