A lonely young man, exasperated by the English press, who wants to become more involved in Italian social issues. That was the picture Mario Balotelli drew of himself in an extensive interview published yesterday.
The Manchester City striker confessed to having no close friends in his adopted city and said that if he left the Premier League it would be to return to Italy. "I am 21 years old and I am a long way from home," he told L'Uomo Vogue. "In spite of all the profound differences between here and home I am pretty adaptable but I don't have any real friends here and if I have to move – whenever that is – then I'll choose Italy."
Though he claimed that the British press is obsessed by him, they have merely followed the path taken by journalists in Italy. In June, La Stampa reported his tour of a crime-ridden mafia estate "looking around wide-eyed as if it were Disneyworld". They did the same for his visit to a women's prison in Brescia.
However, Balotelli said he was particularly embarrassed by the Italian media's habit of quoting British tabloid reports as if they were fact. "I can never win with English journalists," he said. "If I laugh, I am not a serious person. If I don't laugh, I am a rich sulk who can't be motivated to do the most beautiful job in the world. Here, in England, the tabloid press writes about everything you do and they always exaggerate.
"But the one thing I can't stand is that in Italy the stupidities of the tabloids are picked up and amplified without anybody bothering to check."
Given that Jose Mourinho, the manager with whom he spectacularly fell out at Internazionale, has expressed a desire to return to England when he has finished with Real Madrid, it was probably politic for Balotelli to offer him an olive branch.
"As a coach, Mourinho is among the best," said Balotelli, who was rated "unmanageable" by the man who took Inter to the treble in 2010. "However, if I had to give my opinion, I would say it would be Roberto Mancini first and then Mourinho. A manager has to extract 100 per cent of a footballer's ability and Mancini is very skilled at doing that."
L'Uomo Vogue was one of Balotelli's great supporters when he was the victim of racist abuse at Inter, picturing him in an Italian flag on their front cover. His interest in politics, particularly racial politics, he said, was still strong. The murder of two Senegalese migrant workers by a far-right gunman in Florence last month moved him deeply.
"If I can intervene in some social matters, then I will, so long as it's not turned into party politics because that's tough territory for me," he said. "I was very upset by that chilling racist murder in Florence.
"Perhaps if I had been back home I would have taken a public stand over what happened. But in some way or other, I still want to lend a hand."