Younes Belhanda says Nice team-mate Mario Balotelli is a “world star” and has “nothing to prove” despite flopping at Liverpool.
The enigmatic Italy international endured a forgettable second spell in the Premier League at Anfield, having previously tasted title success at Manchester City.
The Reds allowed him to head to France as a free agent in the summer of 2016, and the 26-year-old has been rejuvenated in Ligue 1.
There have still been issues for the flamboyant frontman, including three red cards, but he has netted 15 times in all competitions – his best return since the 2013-14 campaign at Milan.
“He is a world star and is recognised everywhere,” Belhanda hinted about a man who has helped to raise Nice’s profile and spark a surprise title challenge.
“When you have Mario Balotelli coming to OGC Nice, that’s a big thing!
“He can unlock a situation at any time. We have seen him throughout the season when we are stuck at 1-1 or 0-0, he has managed to get a goal. He got a double against Lille, for example.
“I came here to play football and have fun. I had nothing to prove at all. We have had a great season and it is not over.
“It’s the same for Mario. I do not think he came here to raise his game, he does not have anything to prove, but he needed time to play and that’s how he should be viewed.”
While Balotelli has dominated the headlines this season, Belhanda has impressed during a loan spell from Dynamo Kiev.
The Morocco international, who burst onto the scene at Montpellier, is enjoying being back in the land of his birth and admits that a permanent switch could be made once the transfer window re-opens.
“There is always a chance,” said the 27-year-old midfielder.
“As I have already said to some media, it is not my responsibility. That’s with the club.
“If it was my decision, then I will stay because I feel good. We have enjoyed a great year, we are qualified for the preliminary rounds of the Champions League.”
Nice are guaranteed to finish at least third in Ligue 1, although they remain just six points adrift of table-topping Monaco with four fixtures to take in.