Nice defender Dante: I expected Mario Balotelli to be crazier

Dante has told Le Journal du Dimanche he expected new Nice teammate Mario Balotelli to "be a lot crazier than he is."

Former Bayern Munich defender Dante, 33, joined Nice from Wolfsburg in the summer just before Balotelli, 26, made his surprise switch to the Cote d'Azur from Liverpool.

Balotelli had developed a reputation for his off-field behaviour earlier in his career, but the 26-year-old has ensured the headlines have focused on his on-field performances this season, with his six league goals in six games helping the club to the top of the Ligue 1 table.

"I thought he would be a lot crazier than he is!" former Brazil international Dante said. "He jokes around, but not as much as all that.

"What I like about him is his reaction when we're not good in training. He comes up to me and says: 'Dante, we have to be better here and here.' Balotelli's not egotistical. He's really interested in our progress."

Balotelli was absent from the Nice side that Dante captained to a 1-0 victory at St Etienne on Sunday evening, which took Lucien Favre's men three points clear at the top.

Favre has handled Balotelli carefully so far, resting him regularly as he eases his star striker back into first-team football after having limited opportunities during with Liverpool or AC Milan over the last two seasons.

Having played alongside the likes of Neymar, Hulk and Willian for his country, Dante has seen genuine talent up close, and he happily puts Balotelli in the very top bracket.

"Balotelli is a 100 percent 'crack' [top-class player]. He has everything," the former Bayern, Borussia Monchengladbach and Wolfsburg centre-back said.

"As I often tell him, he impresses me when he's focused, and doesn't get distracted with referees and defenders who try to provoke him. In training, he makes me suffer a lot, but I can't be nasty with him: the whole club and all the supporters would come down on me hard if I damaged him."

Dante, though, said his former Bayern teammate Franck Ribery stood out above all others.

"Franck is the best player I've played with," he said. "You don't realise the strength he has had to overcome obstacles or to get back to the top after missing almost a year through injury. I admire him."

He said there were similarities between Ribery and Balotelli.

"Franck was more of a joker, but they have a point in common: they're guys who live under huge pressure, so they need to be able to let off steam," he said. "You have to understand them and give free rein to their personality so that they can give their best on the pitch."