Mario Balotelli says he hopes big clubs are taking note of his continued good form at Nice as he eyes a return to Serie A or the Premier League in future.
The Italian forward has scored 16 goals in 21 games this season for the Ligue 1 side — just one short of the 17 he scored in 28 outings last season.
While confirming he is enjoying life on the Cote d’Azur, Balotelli admits he does still seek another chance “at a big club to win something great again,” adding that he pines for an experience like the one he had at Manchester City.
“No doubt that is where I enjoyed my best ever season,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “It’s a truly unique place — I would even go back to play there for free. I’m aiming to play on at least another five, six years at the very top.”
Balotelli has not excluded a return to one of his former Serie A clubs AC Milan or Inter Milan either, although he is not sure they want him.
“I was speaking to Ignazio Abate the other day because I wanted to go and pay my former teammates a visit at Milanello, and they were delighted, but [general manager Marco] Fassone made it clear that he didn’t want the atmosphere of their training camp to be disturbed.
“The Nerazzurri are a great club and I had a great time there. I was talking the other day with [sporting director Piero] Ausilio and I told him I’d love to go back, but it was just jovial.”
The closest Balotelli has come to returning to Serie A was with Napoli, although he says a move there in the summer never materialised because president Aurelio Di Laurentiis did not want him.
“From what I understood, it was the president who didn’t want to take it any further,” he said. “Everybody knows I would be delighted to go to Napoli.”
Playing in Italy may help Balotelli win back his place in the Italy reckoning and he admits he was disappointed not to be given more consideration by former Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura.
“I won’t lie — my dream is to wear that [Italy] shirt again,” Balotelli said. “My father was my No. 1 fan and I owe it to him, and I don’t know how to explain it but when I put on an Italy shirt, I always have special feelings and give that little bit more.
“It still angers me to remember [the World Cup playoff] Italy-Sweden. You can’t get knocked out when you’ve got players like [Andrea] Belotti, [Ciro] Immobile and [Lorenzo] Insigne in your squad, and that’s without mentioning the veterans. Sweden had two players at most who were on a par with us. It’s incredible.
“I still haven’t understood why Ventura left me out. When I saw him at the start of May after Nice-PSG, he said a strange thing to me, making it clear to me that he didn’t need to discover anything new about me and that he just expected to see the attitude of a leader in me, and then I never heard from him again.
“Now Italy missed out on the World Cup, everybody’s blaming him and I don’t want to get involved, but I still don’t understand why he left me out.”
It had been claimed that the senior members of the Italy squad had opposed Balotelli’s return, deeming he would be a disturbing influence.
However, Balotelli says he spoke with captain Gianluigi Buffon, who denied that was the case.
“I respect Gigi Buffon a lot,” he said. “When I called him to ask if there were any problems, he excluded that. Gigi is like me too, he tells you things straight to your face. Just like Immobile and Insigne both told me they would have loved to welcome me back.”
Instead, Balotelli is just focusing on enjoying himself at Nice and scoring goals.
“It’s certainly a special season, but I am the first to know every year has to be like this if I want to stay at the highest level,” he added.
Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.