MILAN (Reuters) - Mario Balotelli is an excellent professional and AC Milan is his big chance to get his career on the right track, his coach Massimiliano Allegri said after the volatile forward scored two more goals on Sunday.
The maverick striker, yet to be on the losing side with his new club, appears to have left behind the antics which marked his spell in the Premier League and has scored seven times in six appearances since his January move from Manchester City.
Milan, two points behind second-placed Napoli, are in a transitional season with a young team, allowing Balotelli a bigger share of the spotlight.
Balotelli's arrival has helped lift Milan to third in Serie A and challenge for a place in next year's Champions League which had looked highly unlikely during their stuttering start to this season.
"It's an important chance for him because he is playing a leading role," Allegri told Sky Sports Italia after the 2-0 win over Palermo.
"He has blended in very well. He is an excellent professional and wants to improve. He's been on the European and world stage for six or seven years and this is his best chance to bring out his exceptional qualities."
Balotelli was not eligible to face Barcelona last Tuesday when Milan lost 4-0 and were knocked out of the Champions League.
"I don't know what would have happened if I had played," the 22-year-old said. "Maybe we would have lost 8-0. We don't play the same way as Barcelona but we can be like them, as we showed by beating them 2-0 (in the first leg of their last-16 tie).
"We'll catch Napoli in the next round of matches."
His presence, however, has not been so good for 20-year-old striker Stephan El Shaarawy, who has scored only one Serie A goal since Balotelli's arrival.
"Stephan is having a great season, nobody could have foreseen these extraordinary things he is doing," Allegri said.
"There's nothing unusual about a drop in his performances, today he nearly scored a goal in the first half and he played a good match, although there was a point where we needed fresh legs.
"He just has to stay calm, and think about how he can improve. It's natural that, after scoring so many goals, you get anxious when they stop flowing, but his performances help the team as much as his goals."
El Shaarawy remains Serie A's second top scorer with 16 goals.
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Sonia Oxley)