Paolo di Canio believes controversial Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli has "demons in his brain" and seems to be using his involvement in professional football to maintain a celebrity profile as doubts regarding his Anfield future persist.
Former Manchester City frontman Balotelli, 24, suffered a hugely underwhelming maiden campaign on Merseyside following a £16m ($24.9m) move from AC Milan in August 2014, making just 14 starts in all competitions under Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
His only goal of a wretched Premier League season came against Tottenham Hotspur in February and with Liverpool having already sought to strengthen their striking options this summer with the additions of Roberto Firmino, Danny Ings and Christian Benteke, it appears the Italy international has already become somewhat surplus to requirements.
Although Rodgers lost the services of contract rebel Raheem Sterling to rivals Manchester City in July, winter signing Divock Origi has arrived on a full-time basis following the culmination of his loan at former club Lille and Fabio Borini also remains an option despite being linked with a possible move to Fiorentina.
Sampdoria are generally considered as the main suitors for €10m-rated Balotelli, who has also been subject to surprising offers from Lega Pro minnows Lupa Castelli and Al-Arabi manager Gianfranco Zola. But Di Canio believes his compatriot must show greater empathy if he is to rejuvenate a stalling career.
"Talking as a manager, my view on football is you need to understand what it means to play with and for your teammates," he told Fox Sports Italia as relayed by The Mirror. "You need to show empathy in good moments and bad moments. It doesn't look like he is doing this.
"Many managers have tried to change him. Mancini was his father in football but even he now doesn't want him back at Inter. Mourinho understood at the beginning. He is a very good reader of players and he saw that you can't change this guy. Now he is nearly 25, he needs to change himself. He can't rely on other people to help him."
Di Canio, who has certainly been no stranger to controversy himself during his time as a player and manager, hopes the gifted Balotelli will turrn things around but clearly thinks something has to change with regard to his "celebrity" status and social media habits.
"The demons are in his brain," he added. "He is still young, physically he is strong, he is an incredible natural athlete, but he has never used his big potential. Sometimes he thinks football is I can keep the ball, show off in some way, and then my teammates have to run for me. No. Football is sacrifice.
"Football is to bond with your teammates. Not off the field in a bar because you are generous. It is being generous on the pitch. He has big potential and I hope in my heart for him that he can turn it around, but I presume it will be very difficult because he spends too much time on social network and it seems he uses football to be a celebrity – not the opposite."
Balotelli was omitted from Liverpool's pre-season tour of south east Asia and Australia this summer as well as friendlies against HJK Helsinki and Swindon. He also did not feature in Rodgers's matchday squad for the 1-0 victory over Stoke City on 9 August, which saw the Reds begin their 2015-16 campaign on a positive note as well as successfully avenge the 6-1 embarrassment suffered during their previous trip to the Britannia Stadium.