New Club, Same Balotelli
Background photo: Hombrey, CC BY-SA 4.0
The deal is done. Mario Balotelli’s transfer to Olympique Marseille is complete. Where does this leave the former Manchester City and Liverpool striker? For better or for worse, he continues to make headlines.
Balotelli controls the 12-yard box. Six-feet-two inches of muscle, hedonism and aptitude. Oh, wait… attitude too. Sadly, he showcases much more of the latter. The clocks, trains, and balls must all be on time with precision for the Italian heavy to work cohesively. This often leads to the striker becoming hot-headed, accumulating bookings, thusly getting suspended. Yet when everything is just so: it’s magic with consistent goals.
What’s he left behind?
The Italian discarded the greatest part of his individual career to date. His tenure with OGC Nice allowed him to be the id of conscious and subconscious desires. Under the management of Lucien Favre, the forward finished as the club’s top goalscorer for both the 16/17 and 17/18 seasons. Sure, he might have won more at Manchester City, but he was a component of a much larger machine at the Etihad. On the French Riviera, he was the king, the one man who lifted Nice to their best finish in Ligue 1 in over 18 years. That 16/17 saw Nice qualify to the Champions League preliminary rounds, for the first time… ever.
The club couldn’t surpass itself in the succeeding season, as they went from a third-placed finish to eighth in the league. Not as glamorous, nor as appealing. Balotelli continued his form, scoring more goals than the prior year.
OGC Nice to OGC Nasty, what happened?
Like a successful business deal, as I’ve said: Balotelli wants things done just right, preferably: his way. Favre championed the Italian by singing his praises. He like Mancini, at Manchester City, before him was able to get the best out of him. Whether these coaches legitimately cared for him or manipulated to make him believe that, he got him on side.
Former Arsenal captain, now legend, Patrick Viera was unable to do that. A quick google search of their surnames will show the depth of their misunderstanding. The two larger than life characters were clearly not a fit for each others company, resulting in the player’s contract being terminated.
It was clear from the start that Mario was sceptical of the incoming manager and there was hearsay about this transfer happening last summer.
What’s awaiting him in Marseille?
Two hours across the south of France, there’s a great club in need. That’s no discredit to Nice, but when I think of French football at its peak, I think of the famous Olympique Marseille in the Orange Velodrome whose trophy collection glimmers with a plethora of honors. It’s Balotelli’s job to fix them. Seventh-placed, lacking in goals? Here comes the goal machine.
Could there be a better incoming player for the club? Probably not. His style of play couldn’t fit better into the OM jigsaw. The lofty forward like long shots, long balls and has great awareness in the box. He can keep the ball for as long as he wants or pass it off when needed. The wide and possessive qualities in the club’s game will help Mario to settle in quickly.
Linking up with Dimitri Payet should also be considered as beneficial as the Frenchman shares a similar on-pitch philosophy. Quick passes, but won’t pass for passing’s sake. His crosses should find better reception with Balotelli in the box.
The manager? Well, you’ve got to be brave to take on Balotelli. Brendan Rodgers, when at Liverpool, admittedly never got on with him during the pair’s combined time at Anfield. Rudi Garcia is an incredibly well educated French coach, whose academic qualifications may not fit on a single side of A4 paper. He’s held about every position within football: player, coach, scout, physio as well as now, a manager. If there’s anyone who's experience would lend itself to dealing with big characters, it’s Garcia. Like Balotelli he is not shy of the public eye; he has been noted before for interesting media appearances. This may well be a positive relationship for the two parties, the striker should flourish as the goals come…
Hold that thought! In the time it’s taken to write this article, Mario Balotelli has made his debut AND SCORED for the club. The two men are already gelling as he was substituted on to the pitch in the 74th minute of the game against Lille; going on to score 20 minutes later in stoppage time. The transfer looks to already paying dividends. The game ultimately ended 2-1 to Lille, but fans will have been in somewhat good spirits to see their new striker’s first goal in front of the home supporters. This means he’s surpassed his goal tally for Nice this year, as he scored zero for them.
Sitting in seventh place, if Balotelli scores hattricks for the rest of the year it may be enough to lift the club to Europa League or even Champions League contention as they aren’t that far off the qualification spots.
Could the stars align over Marseille, could he be the one to bring balance to Ligue 1 in time? Possibly. Yet, I could be penning the same article in a reasonably short time about how he’s on the move again.