The City striker has made the headlines again this week after a clash with manager Roberto Mancini in training, but the Hornets boss says he sees similarities between the two.
“Roberto [Mancini] was quite a character as a player. But maybe he wasn’t that crazy,” Zola told The Mirror.
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“He had his own beliefs, but sometimes it’s the strong personalities who produce the things other players can’t do on the pitch.
“Balotelli does things which maybe look strange through our eyes, but for him they are normal. He has an unbelievable quality, and the secret of management is handling players like him.
“The challenge would be to work on him and make him more reliable, that makes perfect sense to me!”
Watford travel to Etihad Stadium on Saturday in the third round of the FA Cup and Zola says he is hopeful his side can give the champions a tough test.
“Roberto was a pain in the butt to play against," he added.
“He was so good, so talented and such an intelligent player. But I wanted to kick him a few times when we were opponents because we are both so competitive.
“And it’s no different as managers. I am proud of my team and would love to see them give the Premier League champions a good game.