Balotelli: 'Am I a bad boy? I don't know. I don't care'

From firing air pistols in public to posing in rival colours, City's new striker is their most controversial yet. Tim Rich witnesses his arrival
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The Independent Football

It seemed appropriate that on an afternoon when one highly controversial striker should be leaving Eastlands that another arrived. When he signed for Manchester City, Craig Bellamy joked that he would be calling his autobiography "Google Me" because he was tired of being confronted by incidents in his past whenever he was interviewed. However, Bellamy and his posse never stood in the centre of Manchester's Exchange Square firing air pistols as Mario Balotelli and chums did in Milan's Piazza della Repubblica.

When Balotelli sat down in the press room at Carrington, this wayward, dazzlingly-talented footballer appeared adamant he did not wish to be Googled again. Jose Mourinho, a man who does not tolerate eccentric behaviour in anyone other than himself, had called Balotelli "unmanageable"; one performance he rated "close to zero".

"I don't want to talk about him, he is not my coach any more," came the icy reply. "Am I a bad boy [he says "bad boy" in English although the interview is conducted in Italian]? I don't know and, really, I don't care."

His relationship with his manager came to a head at the end of one of Mourinho's greatest nights, the 3-1 first-leg defeat of Barcelona, the club that had mocked him as Bobby Robson's "translator", in the Champions League semi-final.

As another Internazionale player, Paul Ince, discovered when allowing himself to be photographed with a Manchester United top before he had actually left West Ham, supporters are very particular whose shirt you wear. Before the semi-final, Balotelli had been filmed in the black and red of Milan and, although he played just a quarter-of-an-hour at San Siro, he was relentlessly barracked.

On the final whistle he took off his Inter top, threw it to the floor and marched down the tunnel, provoking a confrontation with his team-mate Marco Materazzi and a remark from the Inter midfielder, Dejan Stankovic, that: "Mario is like a child. What's wrong with him? Well, how long have you got?" It may be no coincidence that perhaps his closest ally at San Siro was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another heady mix of brilliance and frustration.

"It was after the Barcelona game that I decided I had to leave Inter," said Balotelli. "There were pages and pages in the newspapers about me. My name was everywhere and it had become difficult for me to live in Milan. I phoned my agent and told him I wanted to leave."

He may have wanted out but was he given a shove by Mourinho or Inter's formidable president, Massimo Moratti, anxious to rid himself of an unmarketable footballer? "I got on OK with most of my team-mates at Inter but there were some outside reasons that pushed me," said Balotelli. "Were they very far outside the dressing room? Let's not get into those details." It is the closest he will come to mentioning the now-departed Mourinho. "I got on quite well with Moratti. I respect him for what he has done at Inter but I don't feel any guilt for leaving him although, should he come to Manchester, I will buy him a lovely meal."

He will probably take him to San Carlo, the city's premier celebrity restaurant, where he spent Monday night in the company of his girlfriend, Melissa Castagnoli, who when you Google her turns out to have been Miss Reggio Emilia 2009.

Balotelli knows the region, in the north-west of Italy – he scored his first two goals for Roberto Mancini's Inter against Reggiana when he was 17. And he would recall the year – 2009 – as the one in which he was viciously racially abused by Juventus fans. The furore led to a partial closure of Turin's Olympic Stadium.

"Racism is something that has really bothered me," he said. "But I have learnt how to deal with it. That is not to pretend that it doesn't hurt. As far as I know, there is no racism in English football but there were two or three incidents in Italy that were quite bad."

Marcello Lippi's refusal to take Balotelli's raw, exceptional talent to South Africa was one of the reasons given for Italy's feeble defence of their World Cup, although the player himself said that, had he gone, they might have progressed "one round further" but no more.

His parents are Ghanaian, his family name is Barwuah, and Ghana had hopes he might play for them, which were dashed when Balotelli was finally selected for the 1-0 defeat by Ivory Coast at Upton Park this month. He appeared on the cover of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair, wrapped in the Italian tricolour; an image to deploy against the chants of, "There are no black Italians," with which he has been baited.

However, as if to reinforce his reputation for being difficult, no sooner had Balotelli agreed to rejoin Mancini at Eastlands than he announced he would rather have remained in Italy, a remark that had Ian Holloway announcing that, although it had been near impossible to persuade anyone to come to Blackpool, he was glad he didn't manage Manchester City.

"I said I was very sorry to leave Italy because I have my family and friends there," Balotelli replied. "But not professionally. Professionally, I am very happy to be coming to Manchester." Carlo Ancelotti, who had observed Balotelli's progress from the other side of Milan thought he would need little adjustment. "Mario is a great player who comes into a team that was already strong and which has improved in the transfer window," said the Chelsea manager. "Balotelli is a player well suited to this league. He is very strong physically and technically and he will slot into this team quickly."

It is easy to forget he is still very young – he turned 20 on Thursday and his upbringing has been difficult – sent out to be fostered by Francesco and Silvia Balotelli after a life-threatening intestinal illness.

"Italy is a difficult place for young people," he said. "They seem to have problems in every field of life. In Italy it is not so easy for a young player to emerge as it is in other countries. A few mates tried to persuade me to stay. Materazzi, whom I am very close to, tried and I bought him an iPad with a special dedication.

"After Milan, Manchester seems a nice, quiet city, apart from the paparazzi who have pursued me ever since I got here. I will fit into the Premier League because it is more suited to strikers and less tactical than Serie A. The weather has been the only thing that concerned me but this has been the first day it's rained."

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