Mario Balotelli’s romance with Ligue 1 football is coming to an end

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The very talented and often misunderstood though egomaniac Mario Balotelli is set to leave Nice after spending almost 3 seasons with the club. It seems that there may have been a confrontation with new manager this season Patrick Vieira, although that has not been confirmed.

What we do know is that this season will very likely be Balotelli’s last in France and certainly last with Nice. The club are understood to want to sell the Italian player this month to cash in on him for small fee. Otherwise he will be free to leave in the summer for nothing.

Balotelli finally seemed to settle down in France where he had become a cult figure with Nice. The club had not only improved since his arrival in 2016 but he also scored goals. On his debut season in the league he scored 15 from just 23 games. In all competitions he has played 76 games and scored 43 goals which anyway you look at it is a terrific return. Balotelli proved that in Ligue 1 at least he still had the magic despite the usual baggage that comes with him.

Vieira and Nice have frozen the player out for much of this season where he has played just 10 games and has yet to score. Has there been a coming together between player and coach? One thing is for certain and that is the summer fiasco that Balotelli was involved in. Before the season started it looked like Marseille would buy Balotelli and he deal came very close but in the end never happened. The problem though was that as a result Balotelli missed most of pre season and training and did not come in fresh, this could be another reason that Vieira has been indifferent to the player.

So if Balotelli is to leave Nice and possibly France what could be next for a player who is 28 and still has a good 4-5 seasons ahead of him? A return to Italy could be out of the question, every time he has played their he has been sadly subjected to racist chants.

Perhaps he will come back to the Premier League He has divided a few fans since he has played for both Manchester City and Liverpool and getting a chance to play with some of the bigger teams will probably not be an option.

However a team near the bottom of the league could well do with Balotelli- as long as the coach strikes up a friendship with him, then Balotelli has proven that he can be a deadly striker and he could end up saving a team from relegation. If so a move could happen in the next few days. For now though it looks like au revoir to Balotelli’s career in France, which is slightly sad given that it seemed the French air and regime had indeed calmed the player down.

Our picks ahead of the weekend’s Ligue 1 action

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The usual suspects star heavily in our picks of the week for the 26th round of Ligue 1 action – check out our top tips as you prepare your side for the next game day!

Steve Mandanda, Marseille

It’s testament to his mental strength that he’s returned from a mixed season at Crystal Palace and slotted straight back into the Marseille side.

With 45 points thanks in large to his 11 clean sheets, Mandanda will undoubtedly believe that his return to his homeland was an inspired decision.

Lucas Lima, Nantes

The pacey left back has been a revelation under the guidance of Claudio Ranieri and a key figure in the side’s excellent run.

His three assists and one goal have helped him onto an impressive 37 points this season and his attacking output could be critical if his side are to beat Nice. Continue reading

Has Balotelli earned a move back to a top European club?

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It was the summer of 2016. Mario Balotelli had just ended his disastrous spell at AC Milan, and it appeared that the Italian striker is finished at top-level football.

With no interest from major clubs in Europe forthcoming, Balotelli ended up signing a one-year deal with Ligue 1 side Nice on the transfer deadline day. It proved to be arguably the best decision of the player’s career.

Under constant spotlight in England, Balotelli had become sort of a Bad Boy of football. Nice are far from being a major force in Europe, but the club provided a perfect opportunity to Balotelli to rediscover his hunger for the game without the constant judgement from the media. Continue reading

A bright start to Balotelli’s new adventure with Nice

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Another chapter in the remarkable career of Mario Balotelli is currently being written by the 26-year-old, as he has made an extremely bright start to his latest footballing adventure with Nice.

In two games for the Ligue 1 club, who are managed by Lucien Favre, Balotelli has scored four goals, which is one more than he managed in the entire of last season whilst playing for AC Milan on loan from Liverpool.

As such in contrast to his disappointing form in the Rossonneri’s Black and Red stripes, Balotelli is currently flourishing in those of Nice, who sit atop the Ligue 1 table.

Nice beneficiaries of Balotelli’s brilliance 

They assumed that position after impressively defeating the former league leaders AS Monaco 4-0, with Balotelli scoring twice in that victory, which was a feat the former Inter Milan striker also achieved on his debut to help Nice to a 3-2 victory over Olympique Marseille.

The first of his goals in that game was a wonderfully composed and confident penalty kick, of the type which he has specialised in converting throughout his career, whilst he also beat Marseille goalkeeper Yohann Pele with a header.

Whilst impressive against Marseille, both in terms of his goals and all round contribution to his team’s play as he displayed great skill and physicality, Balotelli delivered an even more accomplished performance in Nice’s 4-0 defeat of Monaco in the Azurean derby.

Ultimately the highlights of that performance were the two brilliantly goals which Balotelli scored.  Both of those provided a vivid illustration of his prodigious talent, which he has struggled to express since moving to Liverpool for a fee of £16m from AC Milan in August 2014.

With Nice already a goal ahead, Balotelli doubled their advantage with a super solo goal.  After expertly controlling a long pass from Younes Belhanda, he then surged past Jemerson to finish calmly beyond Danijel Subjasic.

The 31-year-old Croatian goalkeeper was once again powerless to stop Balotelli midway through the second half.  At that time the striker accepted a pass from Ricardo Periera, before guiding a shot beyond Subjasic, to cap a superb display during which Balotelli worked particularly well with his strike partner Alassone Plea, who also scored.

On being substituted late in the game, Balotelli received a standing ovation at the Allianz Riviera from the Nice fans, to whom he has already endeared himself as ‘Super Mario’, despite only playing twice for the club since joining them on a free transfer from Liverpool.

Balotelli’s commitment to the Nice cause

In addition to scoring twice and regularly showing glimpses of the technical skill with which he is blessed against Monaco, another positive aspect of Balotelli’s performance was his excellent work ethic and rate.

That provided a clear indication that Balotelli is committed to wholeheartedly engaging in his new project of playing for Nice, as the gloriously gifted, albeit enigmatic striker has made a great start to his time with the Ligue 1 club.

The manner in which Balotelli has embraced the opportunity, with which he has been presented at Nice, to resurrect his career after two disappointing seasons with Liverpool and AC Milan, is commendable.  Whilst he scored just three goals in twenty appearances whilst on loan with the Rossonneri last season, the one prior to that was similarly laced with frustration for Balotelli , whereby he was unable to hold down a regular place in Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side.  A return of four goals from 28 games for the four times European Cup winners signified the extent to which Balotelli toiled during his time at Anfield, although he did score one memorable goal in front of the Kop to give Liverpool a 3-2 victory over Tottenham on 10 February.

As well as striving to continue performing well for Nice to repay the club’s management team for the faith they have shown in him, Balotelli will simultaneously aim to re-establish himself in the Italian national squad, so as to help his country, now managed by Giampiero Ventura, qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Therefore at present, amidst his new adventure with Nice, the outlook is bright for Balotelli.

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Hatem Ben Arfa recapturing his best form in the French Ligue 1

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OGC Nice earned their third consecutive league win with a 4-1 rout against Saint-Etienne that saw in-form summer-signing Hatem Ben Arfa bag himself a brace. The 28-year-old finds himself as the top scorer in the division ahead of the international break, and is enjoying a dream start to life in the French Ligue 1.

Ben Arfa had endless trouble trying to sign for Nice, and had to bide his time before being allowed to make his first competitive appearance. But the wait has certainly been worth it considering how well he’s started life at the Allianz Riviera. Six goals from eight games so Ben Arfa in the former of his career, and it’s led to the Eaglets enjoying a lofty top-half place in the table.

Formerly of Newcastle United and Hull City, the last two years of Ben Arfa’s tenure in England didn’t go to plan, but he’s quickly turned the Nice fans on his side following outstanding performances. Against Saint-Etienne, the experienced winger had four shots with a 100% accuracy ratio, while making five dribbles. He’s been a difficult player to come up against this season, and will be hoping he can maintain such form for the duration.

Ben Arfa attempts a dribble every 13 minutes on average per game, boasting a 65% success rate. His impressive start on his return to France has come as a surprise given he was struggling with a host of problems prior to the move. The 28-year-old was overweight following a lack of game time, and had little desire to train or play even when given a lifeline on loan.

However, he’s given his all for Nice this season, and has been a standout star in a new role. While Ben Arfa has previously operated as a winger and central attacking-midfielder in his career, the Frenchman is leading the line for Nice and it’s having the desired effect. Such form has even seen him being spoken about representing the national team again after a three-year omission.

His former Newcastle teammate Moussa Sissoko lavished praised on the bargain signing, saying: “Hatem Ben Arfa is a great player who could’ve played in some of the biggest teams in the world. Today, he is enjoying himself at Nice, we get to see the real Hatem on the pitch and I’m happy for him.”

Nice have impressively transformed the winger from an unwanted free agent to one of the most in-form players in Europe this season, and will be hoping there’s no lull this time.