Mario Balotelli has apologised for the latest moment of indiscipline in his career but also called for more fairness to be shown towards him.
The Italy striker was banned for three games after picking up a second booking for berating officials at the end of AC Milan's 2-1 home defeat to Napoli. An automatic one-game suspension was augmented with a two-game ban for insulting the refereeing team, meaning he will miss Milan's trip to defending champions Juventus next weekend.
In an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport, Balotelli has vowed to change his ways while also appealing for referees to protect him more as he becomes targeted by opposition defenders, who he believes get away with murder.
"I'm sorry, particularly for my team-mates, who I have abandoned," Balotelli said. "I've created a mess and it was not necessary. I should not have said certain things, but there is one thing that I don't get: if Mario commits a bad foul, Mario has to be punished, and if somebody else commits a bad foul on Mario, then he should also be punished."
While apologising also to Italy coach Cesare Prandelli for an incident which could cost him a place in the national team squad next month, Balotelli was critical of the heavy-handed approach he feels he is subjected to uniquely in Italian football.
"It's not like this in Europe," he said. "Red cards are red cards for everybody, like yellows. It's the same for everybody. I made a mistake and lost control of myself, let's say because I was provoked many times, and Mario apologises, but let's not get carried away -- I don't need to apologise to everybody because it's not like I killed anybody.
"I know playing football means taking knocks, but I don't want to finish my career when I'm 28. There is no equality of judgement here. But I know that I have to be stronger myself too; more cool. Even [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo get mad when they are hit, I can assure you. But I realise that if I want to reach the very top, I've got to resist certain situations."
The 23-year-old justified his frustration not only with the number of fouls he received -- he has suffered 15 in Serie A so far this season, the fifth most in the division this term -- but the fact the ball would not find the back of the net. He eventually scored Milan's consolation in the defeat, but not even that could appease him after he missed the first penalty of his career.
"I think somebody up there was distracted on Sunday," Balotelli said. "I had five shots, but it just wouldn't go in. It was the same with the national team. It's an unlucky period. Sooner or later, [missing a penalty] had to happen. I just lost concentration and the keeper did well, but I only kept my eyes on him for a certain time, then I put my head down and shot, and it went badly."