Silvio Berlusconi, the Milan owner, has apologised for calling Mario Balotelli "a rotten apple" but claimed that neither he nor the vice-president, Adriano Galliani, have discussed buying him from Manchester City.

While City would now countenance a sale of the troubled striker in January for around £25m, Berlusconi told Sky Italia: "What I said was based on the fact that I feel positive people are useful in the changing room. I was not referring to Balotelli and I apologise if it is was taken as a slur against him.

"Could he still come to Milan? No one from my club has held any talks with him, and neither Galliani nor I has identified him as a transfer target."

At last week's Ballon d'Or ceremony, Berlusconi said: "The name of Balotelli never came into my thoughts, he is a rotten apple and could infect every group where he goes, even Milan."