Former Italian international and AC Milan striker Stefano Borgonovo suffers from the incurable condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as motor neuron disease. The rare affliction causes muscle atrophy due to the gradual degeneration of the nervous system in the spine and brain.

The father of four is paralysed and has been confined to his sickbed for six years. The only parts of his body the 48-year-old can still move are his eyes. By focusing his pupils, Borgonovo is able to control a speech computer, his last remaining means of communicating with the outside world.

Despite his debilitating condition, the former striker has never lost his passion for the game and continues to follow all the latest developments. Such is his strength in adversity, he has even written an autobiography, Attacante nato ('Born striker').

My dear Mario, you have everything it takes to be the best and show your critics once and for all.

Former AC Milan and Italian international striker Stefano Borgonovo on Mario Balotelli

The Italian, whose Stefano Borgonovo Foundation is supported by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and FIFA, explained to why he feels world-class striker Mario Balotelli is a “true phenomenon” with the potential to go right to the top: “Let’s talk about Mario Balotelli, the most talented player to emerge in recent years, in my opinion. 

"His critics say he has a rather 'special' personality, but just imagine for a moment how you would behave if you were suddenly thrust into the spotlight at such a young age, and every aspect of your life was ‘illuminated’ from every conceivable angle. You’d want to protect yourself, wouldn’t you?

"Il Balo visited me at home a couple of years ago and left a lasting impression. He said something that stuck in my memory, namely this: 'Stefano, I’m going to win the Ballon d’Or.' That's stayed with me to this very day. I can assure you he wasn’t being cocky, it was just an awareness of his own ability. And he’s right. He’s a true phenomenon. Just look at the way he takes his penalties."

"In January, Mario returned to Italy and joined AC Milan, a club who've always been at the top of the European game, and indeed the world game. It was the right decision. So I’m saying it’s now entirely up to Balotelli himself. My dear Mario, you have everything it takes to be the best and show your critics once and for all. And you can win that golden ball. I embrace you. Forza Super Mario!”