Mario Balotelli has insisted it was his decision to remain at Nice for the current season, saying nobody tells him what to do amid numerous rumours linking the Italian with a move away from the French club.
The Ligue 1 transfer window remains open until August 31, but Balotelli is set to remain with manager Patrick Vieira's side, and he told OGC Nice TV (h/t FourFourTwo) of his decision to stay for the last year of his contract:
"To be honest, at the end of last season I wanted to leave. The president and the club knew it.
"[I stayed] because the atmosphere is great with my team-mates, the club and everything. I also had one year left on my contract, so I decided to stay.
"It's my decision and nobody tells me what to do. I do whatever I want, with all due respect. The final decision regarding my career is always up to me.
"I had five very concrete proposals and I waited. But in the end, I decided to stay. But I could have left very easily."
It previously looked as though Balotelli was ready to leave Nice after he failed to show up for the start of pre-season training, but ESPN FC pundit Julien Laurens recently detailed his turnaround:
Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere gave RMC Sport (h/t Football Italia) an account and said Balotelli was excused for his pre-season lapse: "I can justify Balotelli not attending pre-season training because, in his mind, he was leaving."
The former AC Milan and Liverpool forward has now confirmed his intentions to fight for what could be his final season at the Allianz Riviera, unless he earns an extension after already lighting up Ligue 1 in his first two campaigns.
Marseille were the team most commonly linked with a move for the Azzurri striker, and sportswriter Mohammed Ali questioned if something behind the scenes stopped his switch to the Stade Velodrome:
"That changed like 80 per cent of my decision [Vieira's arrival].
"I spoke with the president and Patrick. The way they spoke to me and the proposition they made, it was good. I spoke with my agent and told him let's do one more here.
"Maybe to change now is—I'm not saying it's stupid, because maybe I wanted to change before—but when I thought about this, maybe it was better to finish when I'm sure I find myself very well.
"I didn't risk to change now when I have only one more year [on my contract]."
It seems no coincidence that two of the best years in Balotelli's career have also been two of his most nondescript in terms of controversy or off-the-field incidents.
Perhaps if Nice and Vieira can continue to keep the player in check, they'll be boosting their Ligue 1 prospects and can again look forward to challenging for European football. The club finished third in the league in 2016-17, Balotelli's first season at the club, before ending just one point outside the top six last term.
Vieira will be glad to hang onto the Italian, too, considering alternatives such as Myziane Maolida, Ignatius Ganago and Mickael Le Bihan are not up to the same standard.
Balotelli is open in regards to a possible departure next summer, but it's hardly surprising both parties are content to continue what's been a fruitful partnership so far.