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Mario Balotelli’s renaissance: What now for the enigmatic Italian striker?

Martyn Cooke



When it comes to Mario Balotelli, life is never boring.

The charismatic Italian is a true maverick of the modern game – volatile, unpredictable and yet possessing an abundance of natural talent – which goes some way to explaining why the striker has already played for eight different clubs across Europe despite only being 26.

Manchester City supporters will attest to both his quality and explosive nature. Balotelli’s three seasons at the Etihad Stadium were chaotic, and yet successful, in nature and were characterised by enigmatic performances both on and off the field.

Who can forget his goal in the Manchester derby in 2011, both in terms of the strike and his now infamous “why always me” celebration? Or how he and a group of friends set off fireworks in his bathroom? Or how he drove into a women’s prison in Italy to just “have a look around”?

However, Balotelli has slowly slipped out of the limelight in recent years. A training ground bust-up at Manchester City resulted in his departure and the striker eventually signed for Liverpool in 2014 via a short stay with A.C. Milan.

His time on Merseyside was unsuccessful, scoring just one goal in the Premier League and a measly total of four across all competitions, and resulted in him returning to Italy on loan the following season, where he scored just one goal in Serie A.

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A steady decline and rapid renaissance

Mario Balotelli’s fall from grace was swift and brutal.

After being one of the world’s most promising young players in 2010 he was released by Liverpool in the summer of 2016 on a free transfer. Poor performances on the pitch highlighted the volatility in his personal life and clearly earmarked him as a ‘bad boy’ or ‘gamble’ for any potential suitors.

An opportunity at redemption came via the unlikely source of Lucien Favre, who offered Balotelli a route back into football at OGC Nice, a relatively unspectacular mid-table club in France. For the Italian striker it was the ‘last chance saloon’ and possibly represented his last chance at reviving his reputation as being one of Europe’s leading strikers.

As always, life is never boring when it comes to Balotelli.

To his credit the 26-year-old has experienced something of a renaissance in France, helping to fire OGC Nice into the Champions League next season. He scored 15 goals in 20 starts – 17 in 28 appearances across all competitions.

It is a spectacular return to form for a player that was in significant danger of becoming redundant at the top level of European football and was a definitive demonstration of his illustrious talent.

However, that unstable volatility remains – the striker was sent off three times throughout the campaign.

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What next?

So what now for the player nicknamed “Super Mario”?

The Italian is out of contract in the summer and has yet to agree a new deal with OGC Nice, insisting that he will not consider his future until he returns from a two-week holiday. His confidence, swagger and charisma have returned in abundance.

Zenit St Petersburg have been strongly linked with a move, as reported by The Sun. Roberto Mancini, who has managed Balotelli at both Inter Milan and Manchester City in the past, is keen to resume his partnership with the striker and is thought to have earmarked him as a marquee signing.

There is additional interest from across Europe with both Turkish side Antalyaspor and La Liga minnows Las Palmas rumoured to have approached the Italian forward in recent weeks.

As always though, Balotelli’s narrative is never simply nor apparently sensible.

The Italian’s agent, Mino Raiola, bizarrely attended the unveiling of new Borussia Dortmund boss Peter Bosz on Tuesday,  much to the surprise of both the club and the media.

Raiola is reported by German outlet Bild, as referenced by the Independent and the Daily Mail, to have told onlookers that “yes, Balotelli can go to play at Borussia”.

Wherever Mario Balotelli plies his trade next season you can guarantee one thing – life will certainly not be boring!

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved (Ryu Voelkel)

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.


Who are the five most valuable players under the age of 21?

Jake Jackman



The CIES Football Observatory have produced a list of the 100 most valuable players under the age of 21 and it makes for interesting reading, with three Premier League players in the top five.

CIES are a research group based within the International Centre for Sports Studies. It was created in 2005 and has looks to specialise in the statistical analysis of football, which is a growing field within the sport.

A lot of their studies are based in the financial side of the game and given the continued increase of transfer fees, they produce a lot of information that is of interest to clubs.

This particular study focuses on the top five leagues and it won’t come as a surprise that the Premier League features heavily.

Here are the five most valuable under-21 players according to the CIES study:

5 – Marcus Rashford (€116.7 million)

Amid all the spending that Manchester United have done in recent seasons, the value of producing your own players through your academy continues to be shown in the Manchester United squad. It is important to their supporters to have homegrown players and Marcus Rashford is one of the best that they have produced in recent seasons. According to CIES, he is already worth more than £100 million and it is remarkable to think that he may not have been given a chance if it wasn’t for injuries to Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial.

It has been a good start to the season for Marcus Rashford as he continues to get significant minutes, despite the arrival of Romelu Lukaku. Across the Premier League and Champions League, he has contributed six goals and four assists. His goal involvement is one every 113.8 minutes. Considering he has been used in various positions and not played every week, this is impressive. United need to continue showing faith in him. If they do, the sky is the limit.

4 – Ousmane Dembele (€120.4 million)

The French winger made headlines during the summer, as he was selected to be the replacement for Neymar at Barcelona. There is a lot of pressure on the 20-year-old to live up to his price tag, which was £135.5 million. There were clauses included in the deal, but the overall value is more than the £120.4 million that he has been estimated at by CIES. However, there were circumstances driving that. Namely, the desperate position of Barcelona.

Last season, he was one of the best players in the Bundesliga as he contributed eight goals and 18 assists across the two major competitions. His goal involvement was one every 108.2 minutes, which underlines why Barcelona were keen to buy him this season. An injury has hindered him at the beginning of his La Liga career, but he remains one of the most exciting young players in the game.

3 – Leroy Sane (€124.5 million)

The £37 million that Manchester City paid for the German international is looking more and more like a bargain with every passing day. CIES value the winger at €124.5 million and that underlines the improvement he has made under Pep Guardiola. He is now one of the most devastating attackers in the Premier Leaguer and it will be fascinating to see how much further he can go, as he is only 21.

His record in the Premier League this season has been remarkable and he is well on his way to contributing at least ten goals and ten assists. Sane is already on six goals and six assists, with a goal involvement every 78.75 minutes. The quality of the team helps him, but his own performances have contributed significantly to the success of City.

2 – Dele Alli (€180.2 million)

It has been a difficult start to the new season for Dele Alli, but he remains one of the most exciting players in the world. In the list of these five players, the England international is the most attainable for the biggest clubs in Europe, as Tottenham have the lowest chance of winning major trophies. It will take a huge fee to secure the midfielder and the valuation of €180.2 million from CIES is around the fee that Spurs would expect.

Since joining Tottenham as a teenager, he has been a revelation and scored 28 goals during his first two Premier League seasons. This season has been harder as he has only three goals in 15 matches, but he was always going to go through a drop-off in form at some point. The test will be how he recovers. The next few months will show us how far Alli can go in the game.

1- Kylian Mbappe (€182.8 million)

The valuation from CIES is fractionally higher than the reported fee that PSG will pay for the teenager next summer when his transfer is made permanent. He was a revelation last season and played a major role in Monaco winning Ligue 1 and reaching the Champions League semi-finals. PSG have made the move to sign him and he could become the best player in the world at the club if he is managed correctly.

This season hasn’t been as eye-catching as his debut season in senior football, but he has been very impressive still, especially when his age is taken into consideration. He has contributed nine goals and seven assists across the two major competitions, with a goal involvement of 86.5 minutes. This is incredible, but there have been some critics as he isn’t as noticeable playing alongside Edinson Cavani and Neymar. He is clearly the best young player in the world and this list from CIES reflects that.

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Should Monaco’s Thomas Lemar opt for a move to Liverpool or Arsenal?




With just hours left of the summer transfer window, Monaco’s Thomas Lemar has a decision to make. The Daily Mail claim that Arsenal have made a £90 million offer, whilst the London Evening Standard say that Liverpool are still prepared to pay over £70 million for the 21-year-old.

Goal claimed this morning that Lemar has made it clear to Monaco that he wishes to move to Anfield, but now with the choice of Merseyside or the Emirates, he will have to choose between Liverpool and Arsenal.

In the short term, the most obvious factors would suggest that Liverpool would be the better move. A squad full of young players signing improvements seems a much happier place to be than Arsenal, who are seeing an exodus of their key talent after the departure of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Alexis Sanchez potentially following in his footsteps.

The Reds also boast Champions League football this season, something that the Gunners cannot. It is hard to see why Lemar would abandon a Champions League campaign with Monaco to join Arsenal, who are far from certain to qualify next season either, even if they do sign Lemar.

The lure of playing under Jurgen Klopp may be more appealing than Arsene Wenger too. Whilst Wenger is a popular figure in France, he lacks the energy and the track record of having developed players in recent years that Klopp has. It was a key part of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s move, and Lemar may be thinking along the same lines.

With Liverpool yet to match Arsenal’s bid, it seems that he may not even have the choice. Monaco are clearly prepared to hold out for a high price, and if the Gunners meet that then it will put huge pressure on Liverpool to match the £90 million bid. If they refuse to do so, Lemar may well opt to stay at Monaco and pursue a move in January or next summer if he doesn’t want to drop out of the Champions League.

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Is Monaco’s Thomas Lemar good enough to replace Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal?




Arsenal have revived their interest in Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar as they eye up potential replacements for Alexis Sanchez. The Daily Mail say that the Gunners have launched a £90 million bid for the Frenchman.

The role of replacing the Chilean would be a huge weight upon the 21-year-old’s shoulders, particularly after just one season at the very highest level. However, he has already shown in his short career that he will not shy away from a challenge. His fine form for Monaco in the Champions League last season showed that much.

Lemar is very much a player of a similar mould to the current Arsenal number seven. Both players have immense technical ability and love to dribble with the ball. Lemar’s pace and drive down the flanks is one of his biggest assets and few full-backs know how to handle his trickery.

He is also a good deliverer of the ball. His crossing is almost unrivaled in Ligue Un, and with centre forwards like Alexandre Lacazette, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck feeding off his chances in the middle, he could become a prolific assister for the Gunners.

Like Sanchez, Lemar is also capable of playing in a number of different roles. Usually, again like the Arsenal man, he plays on the left wing or left hand side of a front three. However, he can also play on the right or behind a central striker. At times he has even featured as a centre forward.

With youth on his side, some could easily argue that by signing Lemar to replace Sanchez, the Gunners would only be replacing the former Barcelona man with a younger version of himself. Lemar has many of the same attributes and will look to one day reach the level of consistency and quality that Sanchez has produced, and if he can then he will more than justify a £90 million fee.

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