'Influential' Balotelli earns honour
Mario Balotelli has been named in TIME Magazine's list of the world's most influential people, as the AC Milan striker serves a three-match suspension.
Balotelli returned to the Serie A from Manchester City in January after struggling to continue his form after last season's Premier League title triumph.
The 22-year-old has since re-found his goalscoring touch, but his inclusion in the list alongside the US President, Pope Francis and British royalty has caused a stir within the Italian media. Balotelli is the only footballer on the list, with NBA star LeBron James, tennis player Li Na and skier Lindsey Vonn the only other athletes included.
Mino Raiola, Balotelli's agent, though, insists the controversial figure is a wise choice and will prove to be an inspiration for many across the globe in 2013 and beyond.
"I am not remotely surprised," Raiola told Sky Sport Italia. "TIME saw something in him that many are unable to see.
"He can influence men, women, children. Mario can influence Italy in various different ways, starting from the issue of racism that can be fought.
"He is a perfectly normal young man, but it's clear there have been important responsibilities on his shoulders since he was 16 years old."
Following a €20 million transfer earlier this year, Balotelli has repaid Milan's faith, and Raiola is confident his stocks will continue to rise.
"It was a real bargain, as Mario is repaying the investment with great performances and an improvement in his behaviour," continued Raiola. "Soon he will be priceless, like the great works of art."
Meanwhile, Balotelli remains suspended for this Sunday's crucial clash with Juventus, but Bianconeri board member Pavel Nedved hopes the ban is overturned to ensure a full-strength line-up for both teams.
"Obviously it's always better when both teams have a full complement of players, not only for Milan, but for everyone," he said.
"If the disqualification was reversed for Balotelli, I expect a great match with two top teams playing against one another, but it will still be a great game if he doesn't play."