Liverpool's Mario Balotelli is still a special player, insists Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo has not given up on former Italy teammate Mario Balotelli just yet.
Former Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo admits he's been frustrated by Mario Balotelli, and revealed he expected the 25-year-old Liverpool forward to be among the best players in the world by now.
Balotelli looks set to leave Liverpool after moving to Anfield from AC Milan in the summer of 2014. The Mercurial forward has already made stops at four different clubs since breaking into the Inter Milan squad during the 2007-08 season, and spent last term on loan back at the San Siro where he again failed to impress.
The former Manchester City man has been told by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp to find a new club for the upcoming campaign, leaving his once-promising career uncertain. However countryman Pirlo hasn't given up on Balotelli just yet.
"He frustrates me, but I do have so much affection for Mario," Pirlo told the Mirror.
"He is infectious to be around. When I used to see him walk into training for Italy, he would have this big smile on his face -- and I would just burst out laughing -- and start wondering what is he thinking, what is he up to?
"Mario should not just be a character the media write about for good stories. We shouldn't forget what a special player he is.
"I have played with some of the best strikers, and I can tell you Mario has all the attributes to be one of the best strikers in the world.
"By now I thought that is where he would be, that is where he should be. He has no more time to waste."
Pirlo, who now plays for MLS club New York City FC, reminded that Balotelli is still young and can recapture his best once again.
"He has played for so many big clubs, it's easy to forget he's only 25," the 37-year-old Pirlo added.
"He still has time to make it at the very top. [But] he needs to pick his next club carefully.
"I have read things about him and China. With all respect to their league, Mario should not be going there yet.
"If he has two or three good seasons at his next club, he will still only be 28 and could join one of the top clubs in Europe.
"I don't have any advice for him anymore, he knows the qualities that he has. From this point, it's up to Mario."
Balotelli scored just three goals in 23 appearances for AC Milan last season. He has scored 13 goals in 33 caps for the Azzurri.