Leonardo Bonucci backs in-form Mario Balotelli to return to Italy squad

Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci hopes Mario Balotelli proves he is a changed man and returns to international duty as he rebuilds his career at Nice.

Balotelli, 26, admitted that new Italy coach Gianpiero Ventura was right to leave him out of his latest squad, but he is hoping to be back in the international fold for the World Cup qualifier in Liechtenstein and the friendly against Germany next month.

"It's always been said that the doors to the national team are open to everybody and that's a fact," Juventus defender Bonucci told a news conference. "To me it seems that what he said yesterday was correct and it made me think he's reasoning like an adult when he said he doesn't deserve to come back yet because he wants to get back to his very best.

"These words show great maturity and that, at the end of the day, Balotelli really is humble and that he needs to show this on the field, first with his club and then maybe with the national team. Then he will give us added value."

The striker has not played for Italy since their disastrous World Cup campaign in Brazil two years ago, during which time his club career nosedived with an unsuccessful move to Liverpool and unsuccessful return to AC Milan on loan.

But he has been rejuvenated since joining French club Nice on a free transfer in August, scoring six goals in five games.

Bonucci criticised Balotelli in May before the striker was left out of the squad for Euro 2016, saying "we don't need prima donnas", but recent behaviour and form have changed his perception.

"Those Balotelli-esque [incidents] don't do any good to him or to anybody," Bonucci said. "That's the advice I would give because his quality is infinite and he just lacked the awareness that being sacrificial, humble and available, he could have got back to the top and into the national team, where he could be an important pillar of this group.

"I hope for him that he returns. I've always been the first to stand by him, to encourage him and calm him down, and to keep his mouth closed too because I liked and I still like him.

"If he realises how he needs to behave then he can be important to this group. It's all in his hands, as always. I just hope this experience [at Nice] gives him responsibility and improves him."