Manchester: Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has insisted Mario Balotelli`s long-term future is at Eastlands as the striker himself denied rumours of a move back to Italy with AC Milan.
Balotelli, 20, scored a hat-trick as City overcame Aston Villa 4-0 on Tuesday to maintain their bid for the Premier League title.
The Italian striker has rarely been out of the headlines since arriving from European champions Inter Milan in a 24 million pounds (37 million dollars) pre-season move.
Balotelli has been involved in several on-field spats but Mancini is adamant his compatriot`s miserable on-pitch demeanour is just an act and that he is satisfied with life in England.
"After the first goal he celebrated, which is a step forward," Mancini joked after Tuesday`s comprehensive home victory. "He celebrated after the first goal but it`s more important that he scored goals."
"Every player has his behaviour but I think he`s happy. Mario is a good guy but I think that today he was happy because the supporters supported him throughout the game."
"He`s a different guy outside the pitch but he likes to give this hard, `don`t like to play` image."
Mancini added: "I think maybe he could be homesick because he`s 20 and it`s his first time away from his family and it`s normal to miss your family."
"I don`t think it`s a long-term problem."
Balotelli, who has now scored eight times in 11 games for City, said he could not understand all the fuss about his lack of goal celebrations.
"I am always happy, even when I don`t smile," he said.
"But I feel a striker has to score. It is my job. That is why I don`t smile."
"I am still happy and I can score more."
And he too dismissed talk of a return to Italy by saying: "I am very happy even if the journalists in Italy say I want to go to Milan."
"I am here and I am working hard in training. I want to be an important man for this team and the results are on the pitch."
Mancini confirmed star striker Carlos Tevez was left on the bench against Villa with a minor hamstring problem but will be fit to return against Blackpool on Saturday.
"Carlos will be OK. He had a little problem with his muscle and he went on the bench. We didn`t take any risk with him."
City were briefly top of the table before Manchester United`s 1-1 draw away to Birmingham in Tuesday`s late kick-off saw Sir Alex Ferguson`s regain first place on goal difference alone from their cross-town rivals.
But Mancini believes City, last crowned champions of England in 1968, are showing they have the quality and depth to mount a sustained title challenge.
"In 2011 I hope we can improve like a team who can play football well always and stay always on the top but the most important thing is to improve again."
"If we can improve we can stay there (top) for longer than three hours."
"I`m proud for my players, I`m very happy for the supporters for the club, for everyone."
"But it`s important we continue against Blackpool (on Saturday). People think that will be easy but it will be a very tough game."
Meanwhile Villa manager Gerard Houllier did his best to remain upbeat after a sixth defeat in seven matches left his faltering side just a point above the relegation zone.
The Frenchman, who claimed he did not hear abuse from the visiting fans at Eastlands, said: "We are in a relegation battle, definitely. We were before and we knew we would have a difficult run of games over Christmas with games against Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea.
"Confidence is something that we need to address," the former Liverpool manager added.
"I think we have the spirit, the players are aware we?re going through a difficult run."