Mario Balotelli has declared that he intends to stay at Manchester City until the end of next season before looking to return home to Italy. The controversial striker has also accused Jose Mourinho of lacking manners, asserted that scoring in England is easier than in Italy and suggested that Wayne Rooney cannot even lay claim to being the best striker in Manchester.
In a characteristically candid interview, Balotelli said of Rooney: "He's good, but he is not the best in Manchester." It is Balotelli's way to be jocular in interviews, though that assertion will add further intensity to next month's derby, especially if he wins his race to be fit. The 20-year-old said he does not need an operation on the damaged meniscus in his left knee, although he will not start running again for another three weeks making his chances of a return in time for the game at Old Trafford on 12 February slim.
In a long, rambling and frequently entertaining exchange with La Gazzetta dello Sport, Balotelli, who has made a habit of speaking his mind throughout his brief career in Serie A and now the Premier League, discussed his future in Manchester. He has been linked with a rapid return to Italy. "For this year and one more I'll stay at City," he said, "where I feel benissimo, extremely well." He said that he enjoyed the reception from fans of both Manchester clubs. United fans, he claimed "stop me in the street and tell me 'Mario, come to United'". Of City supporters, he said that their singing his name after a recent hat-trick against Aston Villa gave him goosebumps.
Balotelli suggested Didier Drogba was the strongest striker in the Premier League, named Nemanja Vidic as the best defender but said that Serie A rearguards have greater tactical awareness than those in the Premier League. "The Italians, they are tactically stronger. In England it is easier to score," he said.
He also provided revealing insights into life at City, where Yaya Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor are the most entertaining team-mates. "If I wear some strange shoes, they stick them onto the ceiling of the dressing room with sellotape," Balotelli said. He disclosed details of his banter with Carlos Tevez – "he jokes with me constantly: 'Get your pay suspended, you never play'" – and said the ability of Adam Johnson has been the biggest surprise.
There is an acerbic analysis of his former Internazionale coach Jose Mourinho. "Mancini is two kilometres ahead of Mourinho, wait, make that 10 kilometres," Balotelli said, stating that Mourinho's failure to reply to his own Christmas wishes means that "he is the best coach in the world, but as a man he still has to learn manners and respect."
Balotelli has not played for City since scoring his hat-trick against Villa three days after Christmas. He has found the net five times in nine Premier League outings.
The Balotelli interview: 'City's attack is better than that of Real and Barcelona'
This is an edited extract of an interview with Mario Balotelli in the first issue of Extra Time, a new international football weekly pull-out in La Gazzetta dello Sport.
So how is life in Manchester?
I live right in the centre, in a modern building, with a splendid view. One day my brother Giovanni was in the street, he looked up and said to his girlfriend: 'How nice, Cami, look, they're doing fireworks in Manchester...' but it was me, shooting them off from the ninth floor.
Your neighbours must love that...
You must be joking, they adore me. When I score, they stick little congratulatory notes under my door. At Christmas, they presented me with bottles of wine. But I do not drink.
Did you get Christmas wishes from Jose Mourinho?
I sent them to him, but he didn't answer. He is the world's best coach, but as a man he still has to learn manners and respect.
Silvio Berlusconi has said that Antonio Cassano is the best talent...
He's mistaken, or he doesn't know Balotelli.
Balotelli-Ibrahimovic-Cassano at Milan, ever thought about it?
It's still early. For this year and one more I'll stay at City, where I feel benissimo, extremely well. And then, think about this one: Balotelli-Tevez-Dzeko. Is it not good enough? Can you see anything better than this in the world? Me neither, not even at Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Do you get on with Mancini?
He's the most important coach I've ever had. Soon he'll be No 1 in the world. But already now, in terms of human qualities, he is 2km ahead of Mourinho, wait, make that 10km. He keeps saying to me: 'When I joined Sampdoria from Bologna I already felt I was the best of all. Then I realised how hard I had to work to improve.' I've got the message.
Who has been the biggest surprise for you at City?
Adam Johnson. I did not know him before. He has great technique.
Who is the funniest at City?
Yaya Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor. If I wear some strange shoes, they stick them onto the ceiling of the dressing room with sellotape.
Who has helped you the most?
Many of them, but Patrick Vieira and Aleksandar Kolarov most of all. At Christmas, they invited me to their houses, but in the end I managed to spend Christmas Day with my mother, who arrived that day after they had cancelled her flight because of the snow.
Is Tevez as nasty as they portray him in the English media?
What? Do me a favour... He's as good as they come.
Who is the strongest player in the Premier League?
What about Rooney?
He's good, but not the best in Manchester.
Who is the strongest defender?
Do the United fans insult you?
No, they stop me in the street and tell me: 'Mario, come to United.' Honestly. But I'm dreaming of beating United, because I know how much this means to our fans, they are splendid with me. I had such goosebumps when they sang my name after my hat-trick.
Are English defences better than Italian ones?
The Italians, they are tactically stronger. In England it is easier to score.
Have you experienced racist boos in England?
No, they only insult me as an opponent. It has happened to me in Liverpool. I was with some Italian friends, there was an argument with some Liverpool fans.
Do you get Italian friends coming to visit you in Manchester?
Yes, the other day they placed a live lobster in my car. God, did I jump.
How's your English?
Good. I watch movies in English with subtitles on, and learn the sentences. When Charlie talks to us, I understand him more than my journalist sister.
Who is Charlie?
He's an Indian from Kashmir who takes me around and helps me a lot. Then there's Curtis, another driver, who knows everybody in Manchester. At City, I've found a lot of extremely kind people. Also Sheikh Mansour, the owner. Mancini is lucky. He has an owner who speaks little, and only asks him: 'What do you need?'
What does Mancini say about your English?
He can't say anything. His English stinks. But it is improving.
Were you really sad and depressed?
Sometimes I just had no wish to do anything at all, I'd shut myself inside my flat.
Now it looks much better, at least judging from stories about you and Big Brother's Sophie Reade...
Rubbish. English football is as advanced in the stadia as it is backward in the press. Football and tits are mixed up in the tabloids. If a girl says, 'I am the girlfriend of that footballer', they all think it's true. Anything goes, and you cannot defend yourself.