Whether Mario Balotelli should return to Italy and whether he should return to the Azzurri, are two totally different subject matters. The irony is that for one to succeed, the other perhaps should not happen.
Even as Mario told Rai Television that he is “mature and ready to return to Italy”, the alarm bells in the distance could be heard. At this moment in time there is a strong argument that his new-found maturity does warrant a place in the Italian squad, but the environment seems key to longevity.
The list of Balotelli’s alleged misdemeanours is as long as his actual ones and do not need discussing. His time in the South of France however, has seen him stay out of the papers (mostly) and in turn he has cut a new image.
Nice with its 1930s style beach, its beautiful promenades, the Napoleonic market and fountains, seem to have given Balotelli a new cultured persona. The backdrop is certainly one of the most mesmerising in the Mediterranean and has much more class to it than its cluttered neighbour Monaco. Here the Italian forward has been able to live quite a luxurious lifestyle, out of the way of the Italian media and meanwhile playing centre-stage at an up and coming club.
Balotelli’s form has been superb, finding the net 22 times in 30 competitive appearances, but what really stood out was his all-round performance and, dare one say it, his leadership. He certainly deserves to be called up to Luigi Di Biagio’s Italy squad after being overlooked by Gian Piero Ventura. It would certainly give the national team another creative threat and a different skill set that they don’t have already.
Balotelli confessed he has found himself in a good physical and mental place in France, much of it down to his partner and their son, Lion. "The secret is my house. In recent years I've had some physical problems which I don't have anymore. That has made my performances better, but my serenity is at home and not at work." With this in mind, the story seems concluded, doesn’t it? The wayward but talented striker goes to the South of France and returns to lead the line for the Azzurri in a Zen-like state?
Wrong. This is because Mina Raiola is intent on messing with Balotelli’s Qi. After all, that amount of goals certainly has awoken the agent and before Balotelli can rearrange his Bonsai Trees, Raiola has given the call ‘everyone to the Mina-copter’ and the transfer rumours have begun. Now Balotelli is starting to talk about returning to Serie A, but where would he go and would this be the right environment for him?
Looking at the options, even Balotelli said it would be hard to go back to Milan for a third time and with their front line lacking goals (other than Patrick Cutrone) the pressure would be on. Inter seems at first like it could be an option, but his outward love for the Rossoneri and the presence of Mauro Icardi and the infamous Curva Nord just look like an accident waiting to happen.
Juventus (Mario has said he fancies this) has already been dashed by Beppe Marotta. Whilst the director admitted Balo is a spectacular player, he has also said that he doesn’t fit the Bianconeri profile.
Perhaps the last bet is Naples, however, whether he would enjoy Maurizio Sarri’s rigorous training or if he could deal with the herculean pressure of playing in the San Paolo would certainly be a test of his character. That atmosphere and set-up is far removed from the quaint setting of Nice.
Few would argue that Balotelli hasn’t earned his call-up the to the Azzurri, but perhaps he should look at how he got to this place. Happiness and contentment certainly seem to translate into good performances when it comes to Mario. Who knows, perhaps there is a club in Italy that will give him the same feeling as he gets in France, but that is a gamble he may or may not be willing to take. Perhaps out of sight and out of mind is the best approach for Balotelli and the Italian media.
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