Nice striker Mario Balotelli says it is possible he could challenge Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the Ballon d’Or if he can have an injury-free season, and suggested he would be open to joining Manchester City or Arsenal in the future.
Balotelli, 26, has found some of his best form since joining Nice from Liverpool in the summer, yet his season has nevertheless been disrupted by injury.
He returned from a month on the sidelines to play 45 minutes of Nice’s 2-1 Europa League win over Krasnodar on Thursday, putting him into contention to play against Paris Saint-Germain at the weekend.
There, he will look to add to his six goals in six Ligue 1 appearances so far this season, and to prove that he can be one of the best in the business.
“Ronaldo and Messi are in this moment the best and nobody’s like them. Impossible,” he told the Chinese news agency Xinhua. “But if I had a good year, without [being] injured and [staying focused], I think it’s not impossible [for me] to win the golden ball [Ballon d’Or].
“Even [if] one day I won the golden ball, I think Ronaldo and Messi are the best because they won like four or five times.”
Balotelli joined AC Milan on loan last season after having scored just one Premier League goal in 16 appearances for Liverpool, but his return to the Rossoneri brought only one Serie A goal in 20 appearances, with 12 of those coming from the bench.
“Last season I didn’t play a lot, so I couldn’t really score. And I was injured, I’ve been out for a long time,” he said. “So when I was feeling good, I played and I kept scoring.
“I had just some injury in the past which wasn’t a big deal. The problem was they keep coming. So when I feel good, I score.”
The Italian’s form has prompted suggestions he could leave Nice next summer but he said he is just focused on a successful season with the Ligue 1 leaders.
“I’m looking to win the league here,” he said. “Then when the year is finish, I’ll see.”
If he were to move on, he said he would be more likely to re-join AC Milan than Inter, despite spending three years with the Nerazzurri at the start of his career.
“I’ve always been a Milan fan, even after I played for Inter,” he said. “Never say never, but Inter is very complicated. If I have to go back to Italy, I will think Milan.”
Balotelli’s agent, Mino Raiola, has said he is convinced the former City striker will return to the Premier League in the future.
Asked about a return to England, the striker stressed that he would not return to Liverpool, where he fell out of favour under Brendan Rodgers and was then told he was surplus to requirements by Jurgen Klopp in the summer.
“For sure not Liverpool,” he said. “Because I find myself very bad in Liverpool. I said the team was good and the fans are amazing, but I would never go back to Liverpool.
“The first one I think in England is Manchester City, and the second team I always like is Arsenal.
“That doesn’t mean I’ll go to play there. I just like them.”