Mario Balotelli has gone through much more at his age of 27 than most professional footballers go through their entire careers.
Once nothing more than a talented youngster who caught the eye of Serie A giants Inter Milan back in 2007 after only a couple of matches for one of Italy’s minnows A.C. Lumezzane, Mario Balotelli went on to become the joint top scorer at the 2012 European championship but also one of the worst signings in entire history of Premier League giants Liverpool in just two years’ time.
Less than 12 years into his professional career which started in the depths of Lombardy, in Serie C1, and after a rollercoaster ride across some of the world’s biggest clubs such as Inter Milan, AC Milan, Manchester City and Liverpool, Mario Balotelli is currently on the sunny French coast of Nice where he is enjoying the best football of his life.
Is Ballotelli’s ongoing season just another flash in the pan or is the Italian finally reached the point where his maturity will overcome the restless spirit that made him the ‘bad boy’ of Italian football in the first place?
Balotelli’s disconcerting personality has been a major threat to his glowing potential.
The 2011/12 campaign at Manchester City offered enough of evidence to prove that Mario Balotelli is capable of playing at top level. Having scored 17 goals in 32 appearances that season, Mario Balotelli played a crucial role in Citizens lifting their first Premier League title since 1968 when he assisted Sergio Aguero to the title-winning goal against QPR.
His impressive contribution was, however, overshadowed by a profoundly disturbing accumulation of no less than four red cards which, in retrospect, offered a glimpse into his troubled personality which led to the Italian being pushed out of the club after a training ground bust-up with Roberto Mancini.
Balotelli chronically failed to seize the opportunity laid out in front of him and would shoot himself in the foot every step of the way. An emotional return to Italy and to Inter Milan local rivals AC Milan was cut short after the Italian was caught smoking in the toilets before the Rossoneri’s match against Fiorentina, suspended for arguing with referees and going through a series of red cards and off-field disputes.
We all remember what happened next. Liverpool and Balotelli were never going to be a good match and with his career on the ropes there came an offer his agent Mino Raiola implored him not to miss.
Something of a characteristic figure himself, Nice president Jean Pierre Riviere did not need any convincing before offering a deal to Mario Balotelli at the moment when clubs would pay not to have him around.
A New Beginning
His first season in French Ligue 1 was deemed utter success as Balotelli went on to score 15 league goals in 23 appearances. Nice weather did him good and a tolerant squad made him feel valued and needed.
Super Mario went on to become an asset to his club and is currently underlining his importance by putting in arguably the best half-season of his professional career to date. With 21 matches in all competitions under his belt this term already, Balotelli scored 16 goals and 23 in total in 2017 to further boost his stock.
And with his contract set to expire in the summer, Mario Balotelli is nearing an important crossroads.
The January transfer window got opened three days ago with Inter Milan and AC Milan once again featuring as potential suitors for the Italian striker but with Napoli thrown into the mix as well. Nice president Jean Pierre Rivere has addressed the rumours by claiming his January departure is impossible.
“It’s unimaginable.”, he even said.
Nice risk losing their star player on free if his contract expires in the summer but Rivere would not be bothered.
“That’s not what interests us for Mario, but rather that he continues carrying the team onwards and upwards,” the French club’s president said.
Is Mario Good Enough to be the Best?
One thing with Balotelli, though, it’s rarely about what other people think but more what he thinks. With that in mind, should Balotelli be angling for a move away? Isn’t he already with comments that he ‘would -re-join Manchester City for free’?
Either way, the Italian striker should put the glitz and glamour of the Premier League – together with homesickness and resurrecting stature of Serie A – aside and consider his current stance and learn from other people’s mistakes when he seems incapable of learning from his own. Another ‘bad boy’ of Italian football, Antonio Cassano might be exactly on point when he said that Balotelli has ‘found his level at Nice’.
As a top-four contender in Ligue 1, Nice is not on the same level as any of Balotelli’s former clubs. Still, with his entire career and psychological profile in mind, it could be argued that – despite the obvious talent, skills and flair – Balotelli will never reach the same level himself.
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