Former West Ham boss Zola, who coached Balotelli during his time as coach of the Italy under-21 national team, believes that the 23-year-old has all the physical attributes to become one of the most feared strikers in European football, but must first learn to avoid the controversies that have dogged his Eastlands career so far.
Moment of madness: Mario Balotelli is sent off against Dynamo Kiev in midweek
'He can become as good as he wants,' says Zola. 'Everything is in place except the self-discipline. He is a skilful player, a strong player; he just needs to learn the self-discipline that is so important in achieving results.
'All the biggest players I've seen in my career had talent, but they also had strong self-control which made them key players. I think Mario knows that, and he has to learn to use his passion for football in the best way.'
Fans favourite: Gianfranco Zola is backing both Manchester City and his former club Chelsea to finish the season strongly
Balotelli grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons again on Thursday, earning a straight red card for a diabolical chest-high tackle on Dynamo Kiev defender Goran Popov as City crashed out of the UEFA Europa League.
However, despite the recent troubles, Zola still believes Roberto Mancini's men are destined for success - and could soon reach the peak of English football.
'I have no doubt, It's just all about time,' he says. 'Manchester City will be there and be contending in the title race. They've been contending for the title this year already, but unfortunately for them it looks like it's not going to happen this season.
'All they need is time, though, because they have resources and will be using them to strengthen the team all the time.'
Chelsea legend Zola, whose former team take on City at Stamford Bridge in a mouth-watering clash tomorrow, is also certain that Fernando Torres will be a big success following his ?50million move from Liverpool in January.
The Spanish striker has been under fire for failing to score since arriving in west London, but Zola insists that it will only be a matter of time before things fall into place.
'With Torres it's not just about him, it's also about Chelsea finding a way to deploy him at his best,' says Zola. 'I believe that Torres is not playing his best football at the moment, but he's a striker that moves in a way that is beautiful.
'I've no doubt that he will be an effective player, and he will be a player who'll make Chelsea stronger.'
Visit the Dugout at www.yahoo.co.uk/dugout for more from Gianfranco Zola and new interviews every week with England's top football managers.
Explore more:People: Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Mancini, Fernando Torres, Mario Balotelli Places: Liverpool, London, Italy, United Kingdom