Mario Balotelli ressurrects his career at Nice but will it last?
OGC Nice are on top of the French Ligue 1 table after 12 games with 29 points. The one player key to their early success has been their summer signing Mario Balotelli. The Euro 2012 joint top scorer, after having moved through clubs on transfers and loans has now found himself at the French club.
The Italian arrived on a free transfer from Liverpool in a hope of getting his career back on track as he was not favoured by manager Jurgen Klopp. His career at the French club has had a very positive start as he looks to find his feet again.
Nice were warned by Balotelli’s agent Mino Raiola against the move and he made them aware of the threats of signing the Italian. The French club, however, went through with the signing and if the start is any indication, it would appear that the gamble is paying off.
It is indeed impressive to see Nice at the top of the table ahead of Monaco and PSG by 3 points after going through some big changes in the summer. Manager Claude Puel joined Southampton in the Premier League and the star player of the previous season Hatem Ben Arfa joined champions Paris Saint-Germain. Lucien Favre was given the task of rebuilding the club and Favre could not have asked for a better start as his team have responded brilliantly.
It was a challenge for Favre to get the Italian striker going, but the manager has been surprised by the way his number 9 has taken to the league after not being in action for a year.
"I didn't expect it," Favre told the media post the win against Monaco when asked about the deadline-day signing's performance.
"With Mario, we know there is still a lot of work to be done on his movement to play with the team. He was good in getting deep. His first goal was a hard one to score. The angle was difficult, the goalkeeper is good."
Favre said that the Italian has work to do, "He has to keep going like that, and [when] he becomes aware [of] that he'll get back to his very best if he's professional from head to toe.
"After some difficult years for him, recovery will be key in him getting back to the top. Little by little, we're going to try to help him get stronger."
Nice beat title rivals AS Monaco 4-0 with Balotelli scoring twice to power them to a thumping victory. That sent a strong statement to the top teams in the league. Balotelli looks focussed and confident of winning the league but also says it is going to be difficult.
"I came here to win something," the summer arrival said about the title, "It's possible, but it'll be difficult. We've only played 11 matches,” he said before the game versus SM Caen.
Balotelli has scored six goals for Nice already and he is hungry for more.
"It's not enough. I want to score a lot more goals," the 26-year-old explained. "I feel good, but I'm not at my best. I don't think I'm in my best shape. I'm at 60-70% because I haven't played for a year."
Nice have only lost one game, their latest league game versus Caen. Apart from that they have had very good wins against the likes of Lille, Rennes, Marseille, Monaco and Lyon. Champions PSG and Monaco are now playing catch up and it might be a longer season than one expected it to be.
(Video Courtesy: Tram Yuki YouTube Channel)
Mario Balotelli’s career has gone downhill since that performance at the Euros 4 years ago. He has had to move clubs due to behavioural issues and also went off the radar due to his performances, or rather the lack of them.
He is still 26 and has time on his hands to get his career back on track and at Nice he has exactly tried to do that, leading to whispers of him being truly back. He has been given complete freedom and there have been no rules imposed on him unlike his previous clubs said Nice’s director General Julien Fornier. He has shown signs of mending his ways and now looks focussed on doing well on the pitch.
He is rather optimistic about winning the Balon d'Or in the future and in an interview with former France, Leeds and Roma midfielder, Olivier Dacourt, Balotelli was asked if he still thought about winning the Ballon d'Or.
"Of course. It's not too late," he said. "I think I could have already won it by now, but by working hard in training I could still win it in the next two or three years."
Balotelli also displayed his regret about joining Liverpool, "Apart from the fans, who were fantastic, and some players who I got on really well with, I didn't like the club," Balotelli told Canal Plus.
"I had two coaches, with Rodgers and Klopp for a short time, but neither their methods nor their personality left me with a good impression," he said.
"I never really felt right there."
What next for Balotelli? His agent Mino Raiola said that there is a possibility of him moving back to the Premier League. As much as he would like to move to one of the top clubs in Europe, he knows he has to be consistent to stand a chance to be regarded as a deadly striker.
His goal scoring spree for Nice has failed to earn him a national team call-up, an indication that he has to do more.
Balotelli has not been in the national team in the last year or so and he would like to change that as Italy’s coach Giampiero Ventura demands consistency from him. It won’t be long until he dons the colours of The Azzurri once again.
He earned his first Italy cap in 2010 and has gone on to represent them on 33 occasions and scored a total of 13 goals. Big clubs will be after him if he keeps up his performance, as was in evidence when he made his debut for Inter Milan at the tender age of 17 and went on to score 28 goals for them between 2007-2010.
He has a career aggregate of 104 club goals in his spells at English and Italian clubs.
His on and off field performances have been erratic and unpredictable in the past and there is no room for complacency as windows of opportunity are limited, Nice might well be his last one if he is to return to the top again.
He has been his own nemesis and he has to be his own redeemer.
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