MILAN (AP) — Mario Balotelli declared his lifelong love for AC Milan during a packed presentation with his new club Friday. There wasn't much love for England, though, as the Italy striker listed all the "bad things" he won't miss after leaving Manchester City: "the press, the weather, the food, the way I like to drive."
Balotelli grew up as a fan of the Rossoneri, and he appeared delighted for most of the news conference at the San Siro, sitting alongside Milan vice president Adriano Galliani.
"It's an honor for me to play for Milan. I've wanted to play for Milan for a long time," Balotelli said.
He couldn't recall exactly how long it had been since he last played in Italy with Milan's city rival Inter in 2009-10, when his squad won a treble under Jose Mourinho.
"Three or four years have passed, I don't remember," Balotelli said. "I'm here at Milan to win as a protagonist. With Inter I won and got trophies but I played on and off."
Wearing a suit and tie, and with his hair in his usual mohawk crest, Balotelli posed for pictures with his new No. 45 shirt.
Milan reached an agreement with City earlier this week and Balotelli signed a 4 1/2-year contract. He reportedly accepted a pay cut to join the club he supported as a child.
"Being back in Milan is important for me, especially because I'm near my family," said Balotelli, who grew up near Brescia. "Manchester is not far but it's not near like Milan. Playing for Milan has been my dream. I'm looking forward to playing, not talking."
Balotelli said he will miss the "good things" in Manchester such as "my teammates and my manager, but not the bad things — everything else: the press, the weather, the food, the way I like to drive."
He refused to answer a question from one English journalist, saying that "Your newspaper always spoke bad about me when I was in England so I don't want to speak with you."
"I don't have any regrets but I have to say thanks to all the City fans," Balotelli added. "They always supported me, in the good and bad moments."
Milan agreed to pay City a €20 million ($27 million) transfer fee plus bonuses for the 22-year-old Balotelli.
When negotiations were still ongoing earlier this month, Milan president and former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi reportedly called Balotelli a "rotten apple," saying that "if you put a rotten apple in the changing room it can infect everyone."
"I never heard that in England," Balotelli said. "I heard it when my agent told me about it and the president had already apologized."
Galliani then interrupted to declare that Berlusconi never said such a thing.
"We are honored to have the national team's center forward," Galliani said. "We're bringing Balotelli back to the squad of his heart."
Balotelli added that he doesn't know Berlusconi yet and isn't interested in politics.
Balotelli spent a turbulent 2 1/2 years in English football since joining City from Inter in 2010, and his form has dipped this season as matters off the pitch continued to overshadow his talent on it.
He was asked if he was man enough now to keep the focus on his football.
"I'm already a man. Certainly you can always improve," Balotelli responded. "I want to stay here as long as possible."
Balotelli was Italy's standout player at the European Championship last year, memorably scoring both goals in the 2-1 win over Germany in the semifinals, but he hasn't had a performance anything close to that lately.
"Mario is a great kid, he just needs to understand how lucky he is to know how to play football, because a footballer's life passes in a hurry," Roberto Mancini, Balotelli's former manager at Inter and City, told Italian state radio earlier Friday. "Just think about (former Brazil and Inter striker) Adriano — he was the best player in the world, then in no time he disappeared."
Balotelli appeared especially excited about the prospect of playing alongside fellow Italy forward Stephen El Shaarawy, the 20-year-old who has scored 15 goals for Milan this season.
"The World Cup is a big objective for both me and Stephen," Balotelli said. "We've never played in one and we have the quality to do so."
Born to Ghanaian parents in Sicily before being raised by white foster parents, Balotelli was often the target of racist chants from opposing fans when he played with Inter. Racism in stadiums remains a problem in Italy, as evidenced when his new Milan teammates walked off the pitch last month during a friendly after racist chants were directed at midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng.
"Racism is very tough to fight," Balotelli said. "I really don't know how to defeat it. You need to keep firm and sooner or later we'll win."