MILAN: Mario Balotelli has been offered very special encouragement, by Stefano Borgonovo, to make the most of his talent writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Balotelli, back in Italy with Milan after tempestuous spells with Internazionale and Manchester City, has remained a lightning rod for controversy on and off the pitch.

But Borgonovo – a one-time Milan striker himself but now immobolised by motor neuron disease – has great faith in the 22-year-old.

Borgonovo, who communicates through an eye-controlled speech computer, said: “His critics say he has a rather ‘special’ personality, but just imagine for a moment how you would behave if you were suddenly thrust into the spotlight at such a young age, and every aspect of your life was ‘illuminated’ from every conceivable angle. You’d want to protect yourself, wouldn’t you?

Il Balo visited me at home a couple of years ago and left a lasting impression. He said something that stuck in my memory, namely this: ‘Stefano, I’m going to win the Ballon d’Or.’

“That’s stayed with me to this very day. I can assure you he wasn’t being cocky, it was just an awareness of his own ability. And he’s right. He’s a true phenomenon. Just look at the way he takes his penalties.

Decisions, decisions . . .

“In January, Mario returned to Italy and joined AC Milan, a club who’ve always been at the top of the European game, and indeed the world game. It was the right decision. So I’m saying it’s now entirely up to Balotelli himself.

“My dear Mario, you have everything it takes to be the best and show your critics once and for all. And you can win that golden ball. I embrace you. Forza Super Mario!”

Borgonovo,a father of four, has been paralysed for six years. The only parts of his body the 48-year-old can still move are his eyes. By focusing his pupils, Borgonovo is able to control the speech computer.

Yet the former Milan, Fiorentina and Udinese forward has never lost his passion for the game and has written an autobiography, Attacante Nato (Born Striker).

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