Soccer: Prandelli backs Balotelli after drugs claim

Informant says Italy star sold drugs in Naples 'as a joke'

Soccer: Prandelli backs Balotelli after drugs claim

Bologna, May 31 - Italy coach Cesare Prandelli stuck up for Mario Balotelli on Friday after a former mobster claimed the AC Milan striker jokingly dealt drugs during a visit to Naples. It was the latest in a series of storms whipped up in the media about the talented, temperamental 22-year-old's off-field antics and Prandelli said his star player was being unfairly targeted. "It strange that every time there is a big tournament for Italy there's always something that disturbs us," Prandelli told state broadcaster Rai ahead of Friday's friendly against San Marino in Bologna, which comes before an important World Cup qualifier in the Czech Republic on Tuesday and next month's Confederations Cup in Brazil. "Obviously that's because the team creates an opportunity to address certain issues, to put them on the stage. But it's not right. "I think Balotelli has had enough. This hounding of him in every situation is intolerable. He's so popular now that he has to carefully assess every situation, choose who he spends time with very carefully. "I can't see him dealing drugs, not even for a joke. Absolutely not". Under questioning from prosecutors, Armando De Rosa, a former member of the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra, said he was with Balotelli in September 2010 in the troubled Scampia neighbourhood of Naples when he said the striker joked about dealing drugs in the neighbourhood. De Rosa told prosecutors Balotelli asked his alleged Camorra hosts if he could hand out the next sale, and they let him. De Rosa, who claims he has quit the Camorra, was being questioned in connection with a money-laundering ring. In September 2011 Balotelli was called in for questioning after the visit he made in 2010 to the Naples neighbourhood that is notorious for drug trafficking and other Camorra activities. According to prosecutors, the striker was accompanied by two "senior Camorra figures". Balotelli has always insisted he didn't know who the men were when they took him around Scampia, an area he was interested in because of its resemblance to the poor Palermo quarter where he grew up. On Thursday the player Balotelli lashed out at the media for giving credence to the claim. "AHAHAHAHA, now I deal drugs, they said I used prostitutes, next time maybe they'll say I take it up the...," he tweeted. "Don't use me to boost your audience (figures)".

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