Manchester United striker Robin van Persie has admitted he is a huge fan of former Manchester City rival Mario Balotelli, but there will be no room for sentiment when they face each other in Holland’s clash with Italy on Wednesday night.
In an interview with NUsport this week, the Dutchman suggested that Balotelli is a “nice guy” who possesses all the attributes required to succeed at the highest level, despite failing to shine consistently during his two-and-half-year spell in England.
Van Persie also revealed that he used to chat with Balotelli occasionally in Manchester before the 22-year-old’s £17 million move to AC Milan last month.
“I have always been a fan of Balotelli. He is quick, strong and courageous,” said the Premier League top scorer.
“And he really is a nice guy as well. You have people who initially look like nice guys, but turn out to be different in the end.
“Balotelli is the exact opposite.”
Van Persie’s obvious affection for Balotelli – who scored twice on his debut for the Rossoneri at the weekend – will surely be the last thing on his mind as he leads the line for Holland in their friendly against the Azzurri in Amsterdam.
But even with home advantage, the former Arsenal striker could find it tricky to outshine Balotelli considering the youthful nature of the team selected by Oranje coach Louis van Gaal.
Van Persie will take the field alongside ten team-mates who have amassed just 41 Holland caps between them, compared to the total of 71 he has collected on his own since making his debut against Romania in 2005.
By contrast, Balotelli could well be flanked by new AC Milan colleague Stephan El Shaarawy, with whom he struck up an instant rapport in Saturday’s 2-1 triumph over Udinese, and can count on a high-quality supply line from Andrea Pirlo.
With that in mind, it could be argued that Balotelli is the better any time goalscorer bet at 17/10 (6/1 to score first), especially considering his best performances were generally reserved for the Azzurri rather than Man City towards the end of his spell at the Etihad Stadium.
However, Van Persie is an 11/10 chance to notch at any time and that price must surely be the safer option, judging by the 29-year-old’s impressive record of 22 goals for United in all competitions this season.
As the focal point of the Dutch attack, he will receive plenty of service from the likes of Jeremain Lens and pacey debutant Ola John from out wide, while highly-rated duo Kevin Strootman and Adam Maher will offer further support from central areas.
And if Van Persie’s performances over the past 18 months have proved anything, it is that he is one of world football’s most deadly finishers, so he may only need one chance to get on the scoresheet against Italy.
A further source of inspiration is provided by the fact that he is just two goals short of Johan Cruyff’s tally of 33 for Holland – and he can be backed at 11/2 to equal or better that total at the Amsterdam Arena.
Unsurprisingly, Van Persie is also the 4/1 favourite in the first goalscorer market, but with international friendlies proving pretty unpredictable affairs at the best of times, the 11/10 any time option is preferable.
Of course, ‘unpredictable’ is just one of many words used to describe Balotelli down the years and it would be no surprise if he stole the limelight from Van Persie on Wednesday evening.
But all things considered, the smart money is surely on the Dutchman coming out on top in their goalscoring duel.