All eyes were in southern France Sunday, as Mario Balotelli became Nice’s latest player reborn. Last season it was Hatem Ben Arfa, whose 17 goals earned him a move to PSG. And even though coach Lucien Favre said Balotelli might not even make the bench for the derby against Marseille, he started–and starred in a dramatic 3-2 win.
It took the Italian seven minutes to make his mark, scoring a penalty in typically nerveless fashion–despite Marseille captain Bafetimbi Gomis trying to put him off before he struck the ball. The visitors equalized soon after and Gomis put them ahead, also from the spot, with 18 minutes to go. That was the cue for Balotelli to step up again, heading home Ricardo Pereira’s cross from close range to level the score.
A crazy game was complete when Wylan Cyprien launched a 25-yard goal two minutes from time that caught Yoann Pele flat-footed.
Before the game, Balotelli told French station Canal Plus that joining Liverpool was the worst decision of his life. “Apart from the fans, who were fantastic, and some players who I got on really well with, I didn't like the club,” he told former France midfielder Olivier Dacourt. “I had two coaches, with Rodgers and Klopp for a short time, but neither their methods nor their personality left me with a good impression. I never really felt right there.”
(And after the game he was treated to one of the weirdest post-match interviews, while on the massage table)
Balotelli also said that he believes he can still win the Ballon D’Or, which for players of his generation, sadly seems to be more prestigious than any team-based title. His performance Sunday was a million miles from that, but if he continues to show his undoubted talent on the French Riviera, then Nice will be a compelling team to watch this season.