Inter's Palermo-born Ghanian striker Mario Balotelli officially received his citizenship papers on Wednesday and said he was ''proud to an Italian''. Balotelli turned 18 the day before and was given his Italian identity card and certificate of citizenship at a ceremony at city hall in the nearby town of Concesio.
''This is even more exciting that making my debut in Serie A. The best birthday present I could receive now would be a call to join the Italy squad, although I'd be happy to play for the Under 21 team,'' he told the press.
Balotetti was born in Palermo of Ghanian parents and at the age of two was given to foster parents, the Balotelli family, in Concesio. Because they never formally adopted him he had to wait until his 18th birthday, when he officially became an adult, to be granted citizenship.
''It's an absurd law which needs to be changed. He was born and raised in Italy but had to suffer the humiliation and hardships of being considered a foreigner,'' said his foster mother Silvia Balotelli.
Balotelli spent the first half of last season either on the Inter bench or with the junior team, being last in line behind international strikers Adriano of Brazil, Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Julio Riccardo Cruz and Hernan Crespo of Argentina and David Suazo of Honduras.
His big chance came in a January 30 Italian cup match when then-coach Roberto Mancini decided to put him on the field in order to rest his first-string strikers for Inter's more important Serie A and Champions League commitments.
And 'Super Mario' did not let this chance slip away, scoring the opening and closing goals of the 3-2 match and making it clear he intends to be a star of the future. Mancini was pleased with his debut but said that Balotelli ''must be left alone, he must forget about what he has done today and focus every day on what he needs to do. My advice to him is to keep his head on his shoulders and concentrate on improving day by day''.
Inter owner Massimo Moratti agreed and observed that ''Balotelli is a kid who, if he doesn't go astray, could have a great career ahead of him. But we have to be very careful because he is very young and it would be a shame to waste such talent''.
Balotelli's talent and also the fact that he was still emotionally young was confirmed at the time by Michele Cavalli, an ex-coach who gave him his official debut in the minor league team Lumezzane when he was only 12.
''I always knew he would have great success and it was his dream to play for a big team. But I have to add that he has a difficult character and this is something which needs to be dealt with,'' Cavalli said.
''He is blessed with great agility and coordination which allows him to make moves which others find difficult. But he also has a tendency to pick fights with his teammates and can get a little carried away,'' he explained.
''I'm certainly not in a position to tell Mancini what to do. However, my advice is to leave him free on the pitch. When he feels free, Mario can do truly amazing things,'' Cavalli said.