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AC MILAN

Balotelli slams Italy’s ‘stupid’ citizenship law

Football player Mario Balotelli has made it to the cover of US magazine Sports Illustrated, taking the opportunity to criticize Italy's "stupid" citizenship law.

Balotelli slams Italy's 'stupid' citizenship law
Mario Balotelli plays for AC Milan and the Italian national team. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

The cover photo was taken in Florida and presents Balotelli as a Christ-like figure, arms spread out as he appears to walk on water.

Other sports stars to have appeared on the magazine’s cover include basketball player Michael Jordan and Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, both from the US.

Mario Balotelli by Jeffery A. Salter for Sports Illustrated

The magazine described Balotelli as “the most interesting man in the world” of football who “represents the New Europe”.

The absurdity of his national identity – that he was born in Italy, plays for the national football team but was barred from citizenship until he was 18 – does not escape Sports Illustrated.

Balotelli was born to Ghanaian parents and raised by Italian foster parents, although not formally allowed to become an Italian until adulthood.

“That’s a stupid rule. I spent 18 years in Italy, and I was not Italian yet. That's why I hope all the guys that are like me and living this are going to be Italian before I became Italian," the AC Milan striker told the magazine.

Italy’s integration minister, Cecile Kyenge, is currently trying to overhaul the immigration law to ensure children born in Italy can gain citizenship.

“Now there are a lot more [immigrants] coming, so I’m not alone anymore,” Balotelli said.

Yet despite being famed for his football prowess, he has not escaped prejudice and criticized the way racism is handled in football.

Racist chanting at football games in Italy is rife, yet AC Milan will be punished if players walk off the pitch in protest. “For this stupid rule I will stay on the pitch,” Balotelli said.

He is committed to helping stamp out racism however he can, and as the first black player to represent Italy in a major tournament he is already pushing boundaries.

Sharing his admiration for the US president, Balotelli appeared unaware of the similar promise he holds for Italy: “Obama can be like a new start for everyone. Just the fact that he's black and he's the first one." 

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FOOTBALL

‘Not here as a mascot’: Zlatan scores in first match at AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic warned on Friday he was not back at AC Milan just to act as a mascot and immediately got off the mark for his new club by scoring in a friendly against a local lower league side.

'Not here as a mascot': Zlatan scores in first match at AC Milan
Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic shows off his new AC Milan jersey on Friday. Photo: Marco Bertorelli/AFP
“I'm ready, I feel more than alive, I hope to play immediately,” the 38-year-old told a press conference in Milan before scoring and setting up another in a 9-0 friendly win later in the day over fifth-division Rhodense.
   
“I'm not here as a mascot. I'm looking for the last bit of adrenaline I might have. At my age you're not looking for anything else but a challenge. “I have not lost my passion for what I do.”
   
Ibrahimovic has signed a six-month contract worth 3.5 million euros ($3.9 million) with the option for an additional season, seven years after he left Milan for Paris Saint-Germain.
   
Hundreds of fans waited outside the club's Casa Milan headquarters to catch a glimpse of the returning hero who helped the fallen Italian giants win their 18th and last Serie A title in 2011.
   
He greeted them holding the number 21 jersey aloft, having worn the number 11 during his previous spell at the club.
 
“I got more requests now than when I was 28,” said Ibrahimovic, who parted company with MLS side Los Angeles Galaxy in October.  “I wanted adrenaline and at Milan you can't say no. It's a club I love, in 2012 I didn't want to leave.”
   
His first league game could be against Sampdoria on Monday at the San Siro.
   
“I want to feel the grass and the atmosphere of the stadium, if they boo the adrenaline will increase, and at the end of the game they will applaud.”
   
Ibrahimovic scored 56 goals in 85 appearances in his first spell at Milan, and scored more Serie A goals for the club (42) than anyone else in the last decade.
 
'Make the difference'
 
One of the most successful clubs in the world, the seven-times European champions languish 11th in the Serie A table, 14 points away from Champions League football and just seven away from the relegation zone.
   
Club legend Paolo Maldini contacted the Swede after he left LA Galaxy and the calls intensified after a 5-0 loss to Atalanta, their heaviest defeat in 21 years.
   
“After Atalanta I got lots and lots of calls, it wasn't a difficult decision in the end,” continued Ibrahimovic.
   
Ibrahimovic said that going to the United States after his career-threatening knee injury at Manchester United had refuelled his passion.
   
“A year ago (former AC Milan sporting director) Leonardo had looked for me but I still didn't feel ready to make a difference in Italy.
 
“I only had one MLS championship in my legs after the injury. Now I feel alive, more than alive,” continued the Swede, who scored 53 goals in 58 games for LA Galaxy.
 
“Things need to be improved on the pitch and that's why I'm here. I know perfectly well that I can't play like when I was 28 or 35, but smart players know how to manage themselves — you can run less and shoot more from 40 metres.”
   
With 116 games for Sweden and 62 goals, Ibrahimovic is the all-time leading scorer for the Swedish national team.
   
He started his career at Malmo before going on to play for Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan, PSG and Manchester United, winning trophies with all these clubs.
   
Milan chief football officer Zvonimir Boban warned that the club would not just be counting on Ibrahimovic.
   
“We must not hide behind the broad shoulders of Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” said Boban. “We hope the course of the season will change and are optimistic about the effect he will have on the team and the environment, but we need results.”
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