Balotelli was named among the substitutes for Sunday’s Serie A encounter, as reported by Milan’s official Twitter page:
#ACMilan's bench vs Lazio: Coppola, Gabriel, Robinho, Saponara, Birsa, Muntari, Zapata, Taarabt, Bonera, Emanuelson, Balotelli, Zaccardo.— AC Milan (@acmilan) March 23, 2014
The Italian’s absence instantly sparked suspicions of a fitness problem, but Milan coach Mauro Tassotti quickly told Sky Sport Italia that Seedorf had based his selection on the past week’s training sessions.
Football Italia provides Tassotti’s quotes:
It was a decision made during the week.
The coach watches the training sessions and decides who to put into the starting XI. He chose Pazzini.
As Tassotti highlighted, Giampaolo Pazzini was the man to be trusted in the striking role by Seedorf, for a match upon which his future as Milan manager reportedly rested.
Mark Doyle of Goal.com recently highlighted reports that owner Silvio Berlusconi was growing tired of Milan’s form under Seedorf, although the Dutchman rejected fears over his job prior to the weekend:
There are no problems with the club. Until the club tells me otherwise, I’ll be right here.
Some things were reported in the wrong manner. The meeting yesterday [Friday] with (CEO Adriano) Galliani was at my behest. It was very constructive and I asked him to stay close to me.
The decision to leave Balotelli—such a big personality—out of his starting line-up is a real line-in-the-sand moment for Seedorf. Milan were 11th in Serie A and a massive 38 points off top spot ahead of Sunday’s clash with Lazio.
For a club with such a glorious history, including seven European Cups, its current plight is every bit as shocking as Manchester United’s collapse in the Premier League.
Balotelli has scored 11 league goals this term, according to WhoScored.com, as well as two Champions League goals, resembling a decent strike rate in an underperforming side.
However, his form has deserted him over recent weeks, with only one strike in his last four outings prior to the Lazio game and two in his last six, according to SoccerBase.com.
Will Balotelli be at Milan next season?
Such is Balotelli’s style that he truly needs to be scoring to justify his worth on the pitch. Never known for his hard work or all-action style, Balotelli is defined by moments of magic—and often controversy—on the football pitch.
Right now, Seedorf needs team spirit, and he needs individuals who will fight for him and the great name of Milan. Intriguingly, Robinho and Adel Taarabt—two others with a similar attitude to Balotelli—were also benched for the trip to Lazio.
Just months before the World Cup, Balotelli knows he needs to be playing and hitting form in order to cement his place as a starter in the Italian squad. Seedorf will hope Sunday’s ride on the bench will spark a response from the former Manchester City man.