Mario Balotelli's renaissance: What now for the enigmatic Italian striker?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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