I'm not at all mad, says Italian firecracker Mario Balotelli

Manchester City striker speaks his mind before leading the attack for his country

LAST UPDATED AT 09:11 ON Thu 10 Nov 2011

MARIO BALOTELLI is not bonkers. That's the message from the man who since arriving at Manchester City from Inter Milan in the summer of 2010 has entertained English football fans with his madcap antics.

Speaking ahead of Italy's forthcoming friendlies against Poland and Uruguay, the 20-year-old striker blamed his reputation on the British tabloids. "They tend to talk more about my private life than what I do on the field," he complained. "English newspapers like the Sun are worse than the Italian ones. A newspaper that puts naked ladies on the front cover …"

Reminded of some of his past indiscretions, however, such as letting off fireworks in the bathroom of his £3m home, fighting team-mate Jerome Boateng on the training ground, or browsing the porn shelf of his local newsagents while his girlfriend stocked up on wine gums, the Italian did admit he sometimes behaves in a contrary fashion.

"I do things that are a bit strange," he said, though he was quick to stress: "I'm not mad, not at all."

Balotelli has gained something of a cult following since arriving from Inter Milan. Initially he struggled to settle at Eastlands, picking up nine yellow cards and two red cards in his first 20 appearances for the Sky Blues. There were on-pitch tantrums and training ground bust-ups.

This season, however, Balotelli appears more at ease with life in Manchester even allowing for his occasional off-field excesses. With his girlfriend and family often by his side, he has switched from collecting cards to scoring goals whenever he plays for City.

With seven club goals to his credit already this season, Balotelli is now likely to be given the starring role in Italy's frontline following injuries to Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi.

Balotelli credits his improvement to the high standards of the Premier League. "English football taught me the pressing game and to chase opponents when I lose the ball," he explained. "I don't miss Italian football, the level there has fallen a long way." · 

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