Rome, November 2 - Manchester City's Italy forward Mario Balotelli has joined the ranks of politicians, Nobel Prize winners and royalty by becoming this December's TIME magazine cover star. The 22-year-old striker, who is frequently in the news for his goals, disciplinary problems and madcap off-field antics, appears on the cover "The Meaning of Mario" that discusses football, race and European identity. Balotelli, who was born in 1990 in Palermo to Ghanaian parents and grew up with an Italian foster family in the north of the country, has often been thrown into the spotlight both for his playing and racist abuse he has faced in his home country and abroad. Balotelli, talking about changes in Italy's social fabric, told TIME that there are a few "stupid racists in Italy, but nothing can be done about them". "I hope to be able to help Italy become a more modern country, like England or the United States," he said. On soccer, Balotelli talks about his most memorable moments, among which he says were his two first-half goals against Germany in the 2012 European and his performance in the Manchester derby against Man United. Balotelli explained to TIME that his widely publicized 'Why always me?' t-shirt stunt when he flashed cameras and crowds after scoring against United was not meant as a provocation. "I only wanted to say 'leave me alone,'" Balotelli said. On the US presidential elections, Balotelli said that Barack Obama had changed the course of history. When asked if he would like to meet Obama, his answer was "absolutely yes".
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di Giovanni Pastore