Fireworks as Balotelli reveals his bad-boy secrets
The Manchester City striker gives an intriguing insight into the life of a Premier League footballer
Italian footballer Mario Balotelli has not been in England long - he only joined Manchester City in August - but he is fast becoming a cult figure among followers of the Premier League for his alarming self-confidence and frank way with words.
In his latest interview, with Italian newspaper Gazzetto Della Sport, the usually sulky striker reveals he has mixed feelings about living in Manchester. He likes to set off fireworks from his balcony, claims that he is loved by fans of City's bitter rivals, United, and says that Wayne Rooney is nothing special.
There is no doubting that Balotelli has a high opinion of himself and likes to talk. In December he accepted the coveted Golden Boy award for the best young player in Europe by insulting most of the other players in the running - claiming that he hadn't even heard of his runner-up, the Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere. He then declared himself to be better than most former winners of the award, with the generous exception of Lionel Messi - the best player in the world.
But in his latest interview he takes things to a new level.
From a footballing perspective he has declared Manchester City's attack - of which he is an integral part - to be the best in the world, and once again wound up Wayne Rooney, one of the former winners of the Golden Boy award.
"He is a very good player but not the best in Manchester," declared Balotelli of Rooney, before turning his thoughts to the City front line. "Think about this one: Balotelli-Carlos Tevez-Edin Dzeko. Is it not good enough? Can you see anything better than this now in the world? Me neither, not even at Barcelona or Real [Madrid]."
But even more entertaining and illuminating are his musings on life in general, though he inadvertantly paints a picture of himself as a slightly disturbed young man.
He is frank about being homesick after arriving in England. "Sometimes I just had no wish to do anything at all, I'd shut myself inside my flat," he said. "Even [coach, Roberto] Mancini's sons were trying to get me to come out.
"I live right in the centre of Manchester, in a modern building, with a splendid view. One day when my brother Giovanni was outside he looked up and said to his girlfriend, 'How nice, Camilla. Look, they're doing fireworks in Manchester.' But it was me, shooting them off from the ninth floor."
Despite his habit of letting off fireworks on his balcony, Balotelli is not concerned about his standing with his neighbours. "They adore me," he announced. "When I score they stick little congratulatory notes to my door. At Christmas they presented me with bottles of wine. But I do not drink."
Even fans of Manchester United have taken to him, he claims. Asked if he had encountered hostility he claimed: "No, they stop me in the street and tell me: 'Mario, come to United.' Honestly."
He also gave an insight into the hilarious high-jinxs that enliven a young footballer's life. He revealed that his team-mates like to play practical jokes on him - "If I wear some strange shoes, they stick them onto the ceiling of the dressing room with sellotape" - and that some visiting friends from Italy once put a live lobster in his car.
Like any self-respecting Premier League star, Balotelli has been seen enjoying the company of glamour models and apparently cheated on Playboy pin-up Sophie Reade with her best friend. He explains himself to the Italian paper thus: "I have only seen her once and she began bombarding me with messages, but she has a friend who is much more interesting."
However, he does not see eye-to-eye with another notorious Italian womaniser, Silvio Berlusconi. On hearing that his prime minister rated another Italian player as his favourite, he responded: "He's mistaken, or he doesn't know Balotelli."