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The AC Milan midfielder believes that the attacker's return to the peninsula has played a major role in his fine performances in 2013

Nigel de Jong says Mario Balotelli's decision to leave Manchester City for a return to Italy at AC Milan in the January transfer window has been a key moment in his development as a player.

The Italy international was going through a difficult time at City last season when the Rossoneri came knocking in the winter, but he was quickly back to his usual best at the San Siro side as he netted 12 goals in 13 Serie A appearances to help Milan to third spot in the table.

De Jong, who also left City to go to Milan last year, says the transformation in Balotelli's character has helped the 22-year-old's game immensely.

"During his time at City, Balotelli occasionally said some silly things, but he's a real champion here at Milan," De Jong told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"I think it was very important for him to be closer to his family again. He never does anything wrong now he's back in Italy.

"In addition to being a great player who is still improving a lot, Balotelli is also a great guy."

Balotelli scored in Milan's 2-0 International Champions Cup win over LA Galaxy on Wednesday.

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