Borussia Dortmund duo Mats Hummels and Roman Weidenfeller have revealed their fondness for Manchester City star Mario Balotelli.
The mercurial Italian was involved in both meetings between the sides in the Champions League this term, netting a late penalty to earn a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium in October before taking to the field at Signal Iduna Park to a chorus of boos on Tuesday evening.
Dortmund defender Hummels, who was left reeling by Balotelli’s performance for Italy in the semi-final of Euro 2012 against Germany, said he considers the attacker a ‘favourite’ amongst his group of friends, and believes his off-field misdemeanours are often exaggerated.
Hummels, who swapped shirts with the striker after the match, told reporters: “Balotelli has a special meaning for me, my brother and my friends.
“I’ve had the order to get a shirt from him for two years. It did not work out after the first match and after the Euro semi-final when he scored twice I had other things on my mind.
“He’s a favourite in our group of friends. We think he’s a cool guy, a great player. I don’t believe that all the stories you hear about him are that bad.”
Dortmund goalkeeper Weidenfeller, who was involved in a brief confrontation with Balotelli before he struck the penalty in the draw in Manchester, said he did not deserve the hostile reception that greeted him during City’s 1-0 defeat on Tuesday.
“I feel a little bit sorry for him because all the supporters whistled,” Weidenfeller told reporters. “He doesn’t deserve that, he’s a sportsman like everybody else.
“Of course everybody remembers how he scored against Germany, how he stole our victory in Manchester.
“But you have to admit that he’s an extraordinary player. I think it’s cool how he isn’t influenced by anybody. He gets his share of beatings by the press but he keeps going his own way.”