Manchester City star Mario Balotelli has long since confirmed his place as English football's most controversial figure. On the eve of his club's most match of the season - against title contenders, fierce and unfriendly neighbors Manchester United - the Italian set his house on fire after setting off fireworks from his bathroom.

The player escaped unhurt while two fire crews, using breathing apparatus, put out the fire at 1 AM on Saturday. Along with the fire brigade, the police were also called as the property in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire, had sustained serious damage.

A police spokesman said: At just before 1am on Saturday we were called to a report of a house fire at a residential home in Mottram St Andrew. Police provided assistance to Cheshire fire and rescue service as well as ensuring residents were accounted for and there was no danger to surrounding properties. At this time, the cause of the fire is being examined by fire investigators and the police. However, it is not thought to be suspicious.

It is also understood that the police were summoned, in part, to prevent Balotelli from rushing back into the burning house to retrieve his belongings, as he is said to beleived to have done so to recover a bag of money.

A statement from the fire service said: Four breathing apparatus and two hose reel water jets were used to deal with the fire and a large fan was used to clear the smoke from the property. Crews managed to put out the fire within half an hour of arriving but remained at the scene until 2.45am to prevent any possible flare-ups. Smoke alarms were fitted at the property and the occupiers were able to get out unharmed. The fire was caused by a firework.

Balotelli checked into a Manchester hotel and took part in training as usual at 10am. However, the club officials are unlikely to be too sweetened by his side of the story, in which he claims him and four other friends were setting off fireworks through an open window when one of the towels caught, quickly spreading the blaze. In fact, the officials are likely to have asked him what he was doing awake at that hour when they were expecting him to be resting before the club's biggest match of the season.

His manager, Roberto Mancini, had recently voiced his observation that Balotelli has had a big improvement and was changing his mentality after the player scored in his last four games. His comments have proven to be premature and it is highly irresponsible of Balotelli to heap unnecessary distraction on his club on the eve of facing Man United.