After spells in Italy and England the 26-year-old now finds himself thriving in France
Since bursting onto the scene as a 17-year-old, Mario Barwuah Balotelli has never been too far away from the headlines. Inter Milan is where the charismatic striker announced himself on the European and world stage in 2007. During his three seasons with Inter, Balotelli played 86 games and scored 28 times. He was a league winner in all three seasons with the club, playing under Roberto Mancini for one followed by two campaigns with Jose Mourinho.
Balotelli, a black Italian born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents, was subjected to some horrific racist abuse during his time at Inter. In 2008, an 18-year-old Balotelli found himself on the receiving end of monkey chants from Roma fans. A few weeks later, in a fixture against Juventus, he was the target of more cowardly racist abuse. This type of treatment from the terraces would become the norm for a kid who was just trying to do his job, which was to play football.
You can be certain the abuse Balotelli endured as a teenager affected his game. Professional athletes are often lauded for their ability to shut off outside noise, but when that noise is of a racist, bigoted nature, how simple can it be to completely ignore? Most can only imagine, but for Balotelli this was to be his reality as he embarked on a professional career in his late teens and early 20s.
Balotelli left Inter and joined Manchester City in 2010 as a 20-year-old for £23m. He enjoyed more success in England, winning the FA Cup in the 2010-11 season and the Premier League the following year adding to his Champions League, Serie A, Coppa Italia and Super Cup winner’s medals. He played 80 games for City and scored 30 goals.
The striker found himself back in Italy in 2013, this time at AC Milan who paid City £19m for his services in the January transfer window. He was with the Serie A giants for a season and a half – played 54 games and scored 30 times – before Liverpool came calling in 2014. Balotelli moved to Anfield for £16m, enjoyed just one season in Merseyside before Milan came back for the striker, securing his services on a season-long loan deal in the summer of 2015.
That’s three clubs and two countries so far for the Italian. After 23 games and three goals during his loan spell with Milan, Balotelli was deemed surplus to requirements at Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and was released from his contract. That made him available to move on for nothing. France would be his next destination.
Now 26 and with a wealth of experience under his belt, Balotelli is in the south of France playing for OGC Nice after moving to the club on a free transfer. The nomadic striker, who stated that joining Nice was “a sporting decision”, signed a one-year deal with the Ligue 1 side. “Signing for Nice was a sporting decision,” he said at his first press conference. “There were other clubs, clubs who have won more titles, that wanted me. The coach believes in me and that is why I am here.”
The Nice No9 has silenced a lot of his critics with some great performances this season. The striker got off to a blistering start scoring four goals in his first two league games, against Marseille and Monaco respectively. The goals have not stopped coming for the Italian who hasn’t been involved with the national team since the 2014 World Cup finals. One can only imagine an international call-up is pending should Balotelli keep up this consistency. The striker has already scored 10 times for Nice this campaign – eight in the league, one in the Europa League and one in the league cup.
As is predicted, Balotelli has given some referees a few decisions to make too. He’s picked up a total of eight yellows and one red card so far this season and, incidentally, will miss Nice’s next game after being sent off against Bordeaux last time out. But for the most part the striker seems reinvigorated and is playing with a smile on his face.
Nice coach Lucien Favre recently told the Ligue 1 Show that he’s been impressed with Balotelli’s attitude. “He often stays behind after training to do 15 or 20 minutes extra work on his finishing,” he said. “It’s very positive and we’re reaping the benefits.” Currently in the middle of a winter break, Nice sit top of the league two points ahead of Monaco in second and five points clear of defending champions PSG who are third.
Balotelli has definitely played a part in the club’s success so far, and he along with the Nice faithful will be hoping his impressive form continues into the second half of the season. And who knows, come May 20 les Aiglons – or the Eaglets in English – could be crowned French Ligue 1 champions for the first time since 1959 making Balotelli a league champion in every country he’s played in.