Mario Balotelli is back in form and back in the spotlight
Mario Balotelli has returned to the Italy squad for the first time in four years under Roberto Mancini. Ahead of their Nations League games against Poland and Portugal, both live on Sky Sports, we examine how he has turned things around – and whether it will last…
Mario Balotelli’s stock was low back in the summer of 2016. The striker’s frequent misdemeanours had been offset by thrilling performances during his younger years, but after just two league goals in his last two seasons with Liverpool and AC Milan, a career that once promised so much appeared to be drifting in the wrong direction.
Two years on, however, and Balotelli is looking up again. The 28-year-old has rekindled his career at Nice following his departure from Liverpool, and Roberto Mancini, his old mentor at Manchester City, has rewarded him with a recall to the Italy fold. Here, we look at how football’s enfant terribleturned it all around.
“We are very pleased to welcome Mario,” said Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere back in August 2016. “We hope that Nice, in a family atmosphere, will help him rediscover his joy for the game. We both know that nothing will be easy but with the desire and support of all our fans, we’ll help him to flourish and bring his talent to the service of the team.”
Balotelli, for his part, insisted he was “not a gamble at all” and put his struggles over the previous two seasons down to injury problems, but the scepticism which greeted the transfer was justified. It was only a year earlier, after all, that AC Milan had been so concerned by his reputation that they insisted on including a good behaviour clause in his loan deal.
Out on the pitch, though, Balotelli soon set about silencing his doubters. He marked his debut with two goals in a dramatic 3-2 win over Marseille, afterwards claiming it was not too late for him to win the Ballon d’Or, and there were more to come. By the end of the campaign, he had netted 17 times in 28 games, helping Nice to their highest Ligue 1 finish in decades.
Balotelli duly signed a one-year contract extension at Nice but his second season started in inauspicious style as he failed to impress in a Champions League qualifying play-off defeat to Napoli. “Mario did not play well and I should’ve replaced him earlier,” said manager Lucien Favre. “I call it the way I see it, he wasn’t good enough tonight.”