'It's time for Italy to open up' - Balotelli wants to set example with captaincy

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The much-travelled striker believes his country needs to shake off old prejudices, while joking that his agent is pricing him out of a Serie A return

Mario Balotelli believes that naming him Italy captain would send a strong signal in the country's fight against racism as he celebrates a return to the national team. 

Frozen out in recent years, Balotelli was called up by Roberto Mancini for the Azzurri's latest friendly matches and needed just 21 minutes to open the scoring on Monday against Saudi Arabia. 

That was the striker's first international cap since the 2014 World Cup, and Mancini has also hinted at the possibility of naming 'Super Mario' as his captain ahead of Euro 2020 qualifying

A banner in the stands that stated the captain must be of "Italian blood", however, incensed Balotelli, who called for a change in mentality.

"It would be a good signal for African immigrants to represent my country as someone of African origin and captain," Balotelli told reporters in Sunday's press conference.

"I have experienced racism ever since I was a little kid - although I am not sure whether it is racism or just jealousy.

"Racism really hurts. It's time for Italy to become like many other countries — more open — and to start integrating people who come from abroad."

Balotelli is currently unattached after coming to the end of his contract with Ligue 1 side Nice. 

He is keen to find another employer - but joked that agent Mino Raiola might need to lower his financial demands. 

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"Why aren't many teams chasing me in Italy? Because Mino is asking for too much money!" he laughed. 

The former Manchester City, Milan, Liverpool and Inter forward found rare stability in two years on the Cote d'Azur, after a nomadic career flitting between Serie A and the Premier League. 

Balotelli hit an impressive 43 goals in 66 games for Nice, helping the club to an eighth-place finish in Ligue 1 and a run to the Europa League knockout phase.

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