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Nice success offers Balotelli a new lease of life in 2017
Amidst all the furor that was 2016, one particular footballer by the name of Mario Balotelli didn’t have such a terrible year, somewhat surprisingly. The madcap Italian striker endured a highly-publicized, three-year slide down Europe’s footballing pyramid heading into 2016, but has been able to realign his career in a positive trajectory that points towards a promising new year.
It is quite easy to judge Balotelli’s mood from afar, as he exudes his raw emotionality both on and off the pitch. In better times, Balotelli’s prowess on the field goes hand in hand with his flamboyancy, seemingly derived from the same well of determination to be the best. Still, he is clearly contented when scoring goals, appreciative of the support from his teammates, coaches, and fans.
Defeat has the opposite effect on his persona, inciting reckless behavior and moody, passive-aggressive clashes with coaches and teammates, and trapping himself in a cloud of emotionality.
This self-destructive tendency is how, at the top of his game in 2012, Balotelli fell so far in such a short amount of time. Super Mario was at the heart of Manchester City’s 2011-2012 Premier League title triumph, scoring thirteen goals in twenty-three games, and helped lead Italy to the final of the European Championships, netting a memorable semifinal strike against Germany. However, his career came down in flames as the fireworks reached a climactic crescendo.
He was fined two weeks’ wages by Manchester City for his poor disciplinary record (having missed eleven games due to suspension the previous season) in December of 2012 and decided to fight the club in a Premier League tribunal. These tensions appeared to boil over the following month when Balotelli engaged in a training ground altercation with Roberto Mancini that was splashed across the next morning’s headlines, and, amid a mutual sense of frustration, Balotelli departed to AC Milan soon afterward.
Balotelli began to rebuild his career in Italy, yet a fateful return to Liverpool in 2014 dragged the twenty-six-year-old to his lowest ebb just when he should have been reaching the peak of his powers. Another loan move to Milan was equally unsuccessful and this summer he was finally shipped out to Nice, his smallest employers since the age of sixteen, in the French Ligue 1. Balotelli had long since been out of the picture for the Italian national team and many critics presumed that he would fade towards obscurity at a club that has never qualified for Champions League football.
The opposite has happened. Balotelli has benefited from being a big fish in a (relatively) small pond, scoring eight goals in eight league appearances so far this season. Having missed out entirely on a preseason with Liverpool, he was nursed back to health by Nice coach Lucien Favre and introduced to French football in early September. He made his mark immediately, becoming the first player to score four goals in his first two appearances in Ligue 1 in twenty-five-years. As he was eased back into first-team football, he quickly became a leader both on and off the pitch, thriving in the love of his growing fanbase. Bar an unfortunate red card in his final game of the year, it has been smooth sailing so far.
He seems happy in Nice, able to focus on football with the monstrous expectations of the English press lifted off his shoulders.
“I thought he would be a lot crazier than he is!” former Brazil international and Nice teammate Dante said, per ESPNFC. “He jokes around, but not as much as all that.
“What I like about him is his reaction when we’re not good in training. He comes up to me and says: ‘Dante, we have to be better here and here.’ Balotelli’s not egotistical. He’s really interested in our progress.”
Balotelli has helped lead Nice into new territory both on and off the field, his arrival promoting a massive boost in their commercial success and a rapid rise up the league table. Nice will exit France’s winter break top of the table, having suffered just one loss in nineteen matches, and a rejuvenated Balotelli will hope to seal one of Ligue 1’s three Champions League qualification spots in 2017.
Not many predicted Balotelli’s comeback, but perhaps it was perfectly in character of Balotelli to enjoy a year that was so controversial and turbulent for everybody else.