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Did OGC Nice sign Wesley Sneijder to make nice with Mario Balotelli?

Sunday 13th August 2017
OGC Nice finished third in Ligue 1 in 2016-17. Mario Balotelli did some good work but had his moods. Enter Wesley Sneijder.

Strictly from a neutral fan's perspective, Mario Balotelli has two interesting qualities. First, when engaged, he is a creative genius between the lines. Second, he is drawn to trouble like a mosquito is drawn to an electric lamp.

Even better, he subconsciously cross-pollinates the two. When you spend your off days at Inter touring women's prisons and your down time in Manchester playing pin the dart on the youth team because the club won't let you ride your new, tricked out Harley Davidson, you're just special. You deserve to wear a tee shirt under your strip that reads "Why always me?"
Managers love the creative genius but can entirely do without the trouble. Unfortunately, the two come as a package. Thus, Balotelli has worn out his welcome five times and is closing on a sixth. He's bounced from Inter to City to Milan to Liverpool, back to Milan, and now Nice.

Over time, the pressure to perform mounted. Consequently, his work deteriorated. His scoring wasn't nearly as prolific at Liverpool as it had been previously. Nor in his second stint with the Rossoneri. His troublemaking suffered, too. he no longer has wacky misadventures. These days, he just goes into periodic sulks.

That is Lucien Favre's problem at the Allianz Riviera.

One the one hand, it's apropos the troubled Italian plays for les Aiglons. The club's kit is distinctly different from front (black and red vertical stripes) to back (black with white numbers). Pundits for more than one club have wondered whether Balotelli is bipolar.

On the other, the player seemed to have rediscovered his Super Mario persona on the French Riviera. He burst onto the Ligue 1 scene with five goals in his first three matches. Ten over his remaining 22 appearances in 2016-17 wasn't a bad rate, either, although they arrived in clusters.

Between the clusters there were funks. When one player is complaining to the media that a teammate, or more than one in Darron Gibson's case with Sunderland, is not putting forth the required effort, the manager has a problem.

To be honest, that problem isn't always that the player in question is lazy. Compare Balotelli to one-time teammate Andrea Pirlo. In their respective manners, both are savants. Neither is known for a jaw-dropping work rate. Yet, no one has ever questioned Pirlo's dedication.

Why not? Simply because he is a likable teammate. He is outgoing. He makes friends on and off the pitch, young and old, famously hanging out with members of Pink Floyd and Oasis. Whoever you are, you feel like the Maestro is one of you.

In contrast, Balotelli is an introverted loner. He distances himself from teammates. They don't understand. Gregarious people tend to take offense when someone doesn't respond in kind.

To build on last season's third-place finish and make some Champions League noise, Favre needs Balotelli at his best on a more consistent basis. One way to accomplish that may be to bring someone into the team who's had a positive relationship with Balotelli.
Before taking a divergent path, the Dutchman's career accelerated alongside the Italian's under Jose Mourinho at Inter. They won a famous treble together.

It isn't difficult to see them hooking up on the pitch again. Sneijder's vision and pinpoint passing should create more opportunities for Balotelli. His cannon right foot and set piece wizardry can supplement the younger man's goals. Their understanding off the pitch is most important to the manager, however.

Although less withdrawn than Balotelli, Sneijder is something of an introvert himself. Twice now he has defied convention with his career choices. In 2011, he was heavily tipped to move to Manchester United for a large sum. Instead, he quietly played two more years at San Siro before moving to Galatasaray for a nominal fee. Earlier this summer, he was tagged as debutante Major League Soccer franchise LAFC's first major signing. Again, he chose the road less traveled, discreetly penning a deal with Nice.

In neither case has he cared to explain his reasoning in great detail. He simply seeks challenges that appeal to him rather than those to which others believe he is best suited. He is content to be his own man. That comfort within his own skin is the quality Balotelli seems to lack.

Lucien Favre won't want to rush things. Nonetheless, it would please him if the duo could immediately pick up where they left off with Inter.
OGC Nice have dropped their first two matches in the 2017-18 Ligue 1 season. Neither player has featured. Balotelli is recovering from injury. Sneijder's signing came too late for him to acclimate to the squad in time for Friday evening's match.

The Eaglets have ground to make up. Mario Balotelli has been dropped from too many nests only to suffer painfully hard landings. Favre is betting his season and job that a softer approach through Wesley Sneijder will finally see the gifted striker take flight.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.


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