Balotelli clashes with deputy prime minister

Mario Balotelli has once again drawn apparent criticism from Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini after calling for the country to liberalise its citizenship laws.

Balotelli has enjoyed a successful return to the international fold under his old Inter and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini.

The 27-year-old striker scored on his first Italy appearance for four years in a 2-1 win against Saudi Arabia last week before seeing Leonardo Bonucci net from the rebound when his free-kick was saved in a 3-1 loss to France.

Bonucci has captained Mancini’s Italy in their two games so far but the head coach suggested Balotelli could be a candidate to wear the armband, having displayed a newfound maturity over two seasons in France with Nice.

A banner displayed during the Saudi Arabia game calling for the Italy skipper to have “Italian blood” was criticised by Balotelli, who was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents.

“It would be a good signal for African immigrants to represent my country as someone of African origin and captain,” he told a news conference, in remarks that persuaded far-right politician Salvini to caution Mancini against selecting a captain for “sociological, philosophical or anthropological reasons” and question Balotelli’s suitability for the role.

Speaking at the launch of Alessandro Alciato’s book Demoni on Tuesday, Balotelli called for a change in Italy’s current policy, one that means children of immigrants can only be granted citizenship when they turn 18.

“It’s not nice to have citizenship only at 18, it was tough not to be recognised as an Italian as a boy,” he said.

“I was born in Italy, grew up in Italy, I’ve never been to Africa but I only became Italian at 18.

“I think in these cases the law should change.”

Balotelli went on to recall his experiences of racism as a youngster, which feature in a chapter of Alciato’s book, but Salvini posted a seemingly unsympathetic and dismissive response on Twitter.

“Dear Mario the ‘ius soli’ [law of the soil] is not a priority of mine nor of Italians,” he wrote.

“Good luck and enjoy yourself chasing a football.”

Balotelli is plotting the next move of his club career, with his contract at Nice set to expire at the end of this month.

Serie A champions Juventus are the latest club to be linked with his services but, when asked where he would play his football next season, Balotelli jokingly replied: “I’ll play where Salvini decides.”