Nice coach bashes Balotelli: ‘I should’ve replaced him earlier’

Nice coach Lucien Favre was not happy with Mario Balotelli following Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Napoli in Champions League play-off qualifying.

Balotelli had a quiet night on the pitch, but Favre appeared upset with his striker speaking to a referee due to a jewelry infraction, leaving his team-mates down a man before Jose Callejon’s opening goal.

Balotelli was replaced by Ignatius Ganago in the 77th minute, and the Ligue 1 side suffered a 4-0 aggregate defeat to end their Champions League hopes.

After the match, Favre was in no mood to discuss his Italian star.

“I don’t want to talk about his performance,” Favre told Mediaset Premium.

He added during the post-match press conference: “Mario did not play well and I should’ve replaced him earlier. I call it the way I see it, he wasn’t good enough tonight. I don’t know what happened on the first goal. I just saw there was something between Balotelli and the officials.”

Favre believes the Champions League competition may be too much for his team to handle.

“The Europa League is the right level for Nice and it’ll be a difficult tournament,” Favre said..

“Napoli are strong, they have been at the top for a while and playing the same style of football for years. Tactically and physically, they were fantastic tonight. From the moment we got them in the draw, I knew it was going to be very difficult.”

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‘Actor’ Balotelli faces final audition in bid to become Italy’s leading man again


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The World Cup may still be 10 months away but there is already the feeling that one of football’s most compelling characters, Mario Balotelli, will only be given one final audition in his quest to play a part in next summer’s showpiece event in Russia.

Exiled from the Italy squad since Brazil 2014, when the Azzurri embarrassingly crashed out at the group stage, the 27-year-old’s renaissance in Nice has, thus far, curried little favour with national team coach Gian Piero Ventura.

Balotelli has been a star for his country in the past. His celebration after scoring against Germany in the semi-final of Euro 2012, flexed and rippling with muscles, is one of the iconic footballing images of the decade. The striker was truly magnificent that evening in Warsaw: strong, powerful and decisive; impossible to ignore.

However, he has never touched those heights since. 

HD Mario Balotelli Nice

While Balotelli has been a hit in France, scoring 17 goals in his debut season on the Cote d’Azur, he has a tremendous amount of work to do if he is to force his way into the Italy set-up. It is not an impossible task, but it does look a very difficult one, particularly in light of the emergence of Andrea Belotti over the last 12 months.

Still, Balotelli will not get a better chance to showcase his talent than Tuesday’s Champions League play-off encounter between Nice and Napoli. It is a fixture that all football fans in his home country will have their eyes fixed upon – and no player will come under more scrutiny than the forward who is the very definition of mercurial. 

A muscular injury prevented the former Manchester City man turning out in the first leg, which was won 2-0 by the Serie A side with almost embarrassing ease. Nice’s lack of strength in depth was brutally exposed by opponents tipped to offer a very serious league challenge to Juventus, though this time around both Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder are options open to Lucien Favre, even if the pair are drastically short of match fitness. 

The Italian mustered only a 25-minute cameo in the weekend’s 2-0 success over Guingamp, which was already tied up by that point, and his Swiss coach has tipped him to strike up an instant relationship with the former Inter playmaker.

“They’ve not seen each other very much in training, for obvious reasons, but I think because they both understand football, they will get along. They just feel the game,” Favre said, while at the same time declining to confirm if ‘Super Mario’ will start.

Given the stakes, it seems inconceivable that Balotelli might begin on the bench. He is Nice’s headline act and with Alassane Plea suspended after being dismissed in the first leg last week, the former AC Milan ace is the man to carry the hosts’ attack.

Favre knows that including the enigmatic attacker comes at a price, however. 

“I’ve told him that if he wants to go up a level, he could improve in the defensive phases,” he admitted. “But we know what he brought us last season and we won’t forget it.

“It’s important that we get all the players singing the same tune, although sometimes we know in advance we will have to compensate…”

GFX Ventura

It is this attitude that is the sticking point in terms of Balotelli’s potential return to the Azzurri fold. A club like Nice cannot afford to leave out such a potentially potent force, a team like Italy can.

“It is not his talent that is questioned. It is a discussion of having a motive other than scoring a goal or not. All the coaches who had him had problems with him,” Ventura said in June.

“Balotelli cannot be just any other player. There are players who cannot be extras, they must be actors. This is his case. The day when he will do it, the door will be wide open for him.”

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Perhaps, with the whole of Italy watching, Tuesday will be the day that Balotelli shows that he still has what it takes to be Italy’s leading man once again.

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I’m not here because of Neymar and Zlatan – Sneijder explains Nice switch

Wesley Sneijder says Neymar’s world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain had no influence on his decision to move to Ligue 1 with Nice.

The Netherlands star signed what is reported to be a one-year deal with Lucien Favre’s side on Monday after leaving Galatasaray at the end of his contract.

Nice -1 against Troyes at 7/5 with dabblebet

The former Inter and Real Madrid man is the latest high-profile name to try his hand in France’s top flight, with his move coming just days after Neymar sealed a €222million switch to PSG from Barcelona.

But Sneijder insists that it was Nice’s own project, and not the thought of following in the footsteps of Neymar or former PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, that convinced him to move to France’s south coast.

“Talent and good players help the league to develop further but, to be honest, I didn’t come here for that,” he told a media conference.

“The most important thing for me is the team, and in this team, there are excellent players with a good mentality.

“I’m here for that, not because Zlatan played in France or because Neymar came here.”

Sneijder also denied that former Inter team-mate Mario Balotelli had any input on his decision and stressed that he has not moved to the Riviera simply to enjoy the lifestyle.

“I’m still a winner. I hate defeat, that’s how I am. And when I have to show my character, I do so,” said the 33-year-old.

“The quality of life is very good in Nice, but it was also like that in Madrid or Milan. I haven’t come here for that.

“I know Balotelli but I don’t speak to other players to make decisions. I speak with the coach and with the directors.”

Nice have been drawn against Napoli in a daunting Champions League play-off tie, but Sneijder, who lifted the trophy during a remarkable treble-winning season with Inter in 2009-10, says they can beat Maurizio Sarri’s side.

I’m not here because of Neymar and Zlatan – Sneijder explains Nice switch

“I know Napoli and of course we have a chance!” he said. “And believing is very important. When you believe, you can do it, that’s what I always say.

Why Neymar could end up at Real Madrid

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“In 2010, with Inter, we never thought we would win the Champions League. Over the course of the games and the season, we started to believe it, and we got there.”

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Mario Balotelli joins fans in a bar to watch Nice progress in Champions League

Mario Balotelli may have been forced to sit out Nice’s Champions League qualifier with Ajax, but the Italian striker joined fans in a bar to take in the action.

A tense evening in Amsterdam saw last season’s surprise package in Ligue 1 book their place in the play-off round on away goals.

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A 2-2 draw on Dutch soil, following a 1-1 stalemate in France, saw Nice through.

Balotelli made the trip to Holland despite nursing an injury, but rather than make his way to the stadium, the enigmatic Italian opted to mingle with jubilant supporters in the city centre.

 

@ogcnice Wow Watching the game with the supporters sitting in a bar is even more emotional !! #issanissa Super le gars… SUPER!! Mais c’est pas finit ,c’est juste commencer

A post shared by Mario Balotelli (@mb459) on

Balotelli’s presence was well received by the Nice supporters, who chanted “Super Mario” at him throughout.

The 26-year-old clearly enjoyed the attention, and the action on the field, as he can be seen beaming in the video above.

WATCH: Balotelli’s dizzy penalty fail

He saw Vincent Marcel grab a 79th-minute equaliser for Nice to edge them a step closer to the Champions League group stage.

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Balotelli will be hoping to play a leading role in their play-off tie, especially as Nice could be paired with his employers at Liverpool in Friday’s draw – with Sevilla, Napoli, CSKA Moscow and Sporting Lisbon other possible opponents.

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Neymar v Semedo & five other infamous training ground bust-ups

The Barcelona team-mates have been caught on camera almost coming to blows, but they are by no means the first to see tempers flare off the field

Football would be nothing without emotion – be that in the stands, on the field or at the training ground.

When throwing an eclectic mix of personalities and temperaments into one giant melting pot, it is inevitable that tempers will occasionally fray.

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There have been countless examples of that happening down the years, with Barcelona the latest in a long line of clubs to have seen the boundaries of acceptable behaviour blurred in the heat of the moment.

Here, Goal takes a look at six such incidents, starting with the most recent addition to the roll of shame…


Neymar v Nelson Semedo – 2017


Having joined Barcelona in a £26.8 million deal from Benfica, Semedo was given a baptism of fire in his first training session.

Firstly, he became the unwitting subject of a cheeky nutmeg from new team-mate Neymar, which is unlikely to have gone down well as the Portuguese full-back sought to make a positive first impression.

Semedo then almost came to blows with his Brazilian colleague during a practice game, with Neymar taking exception to being grappled after finding the target.

A heated exchange was eventually broken up, but ended with Barca’s Samba striker ripping off his bib, lashing a stray ball away in frustration and storming from the field – all of this amid speculation suggesting that his days at Camp Nou may be numbered!


John Hartson v Eyal Berkovic – 1998


Eyal Berkovic John Hartson West Ham

Hartson was caught on video dishing out some serious punishment to then West Ham United team-mate Eyal Berkovic on the training ground in 1998.

The Welshman took down Berkovic with a sliding tackle before trying to help his colleague up off the grass.

The Israeli was not content with the apology and lashed out at Hartson, who took exception by kicking his team-mate square in the kisser.

Hartson explains his moment of madness: “Suddenly I have no control over my legs. I am absolutely blazing with fury. My left boot cracks out and cracks Eyal under the jaw. I kick him hard like I am trying to score a goal with his head. I wish I could turn the clock back and erase the memory. I will always deeply regret it.”


Joey Barton v Ousmane Dabo – 2007


Joey Barton

Barton has earned a reputation for being a loose cannon who embraces confrontation, and his rap sheet on and off the field makes for grim reading.

One of his most infamous punch-ups occurred when he was with Manchester City in 2007.

Barton attacked Dabo and left the Frenchman bloodied and battered during a training session. Dabo pressed charges and Barton received a suspended four-month sentence.

The Englishman never played for City again after the incident and was sold to Newcastle later that summer.

Barton finally gave his side of the story years later labelling Dabo a “pussy” and stated that “where I come from there is no rule. You fight until it’s over.”


Patrice Evra v Robert Duverne – 2010


Patrice Evra France 2010 World Cup

Then on the books of Manchester United, Evra’s usually cheery demeanour momentarily deserted him during a now infamous row at the 2010 World Cup.

With the France squad unhappy at the decision to remove Nicolas Anelka from the ranks, following an alleged half-time disagreement with coach Raymond Domenech, the playing staff decided to take matters into their own hands.

Tempers were already at boiling point when national skipper Evra became involved in a furious exchange with fitness trainer Duverne.

Domenech ended up having to separate the warring duo, with Duverne storming off and throwing his accreditation badge to the turf.

Evra and the rest of the Les Bleus squad then went on strike and refused to train.

They would eventually return to professional duty, but Evra was stripped of the armband and a 2-1 defeat to hosts South Africa confirmed a humbling group stage exit.


Mario Balotelli v Roberto Mancini – 2013


Mancini-Balotelli

In December 2011, fiery Italian frontman Balotelli was involved in an unsightly training ground scrap with Manchester City team-mate Micah Richards.

The enigmatic striker clearly did not learn from the incident as a little over 12 months later, in January 2013, he was involved in another bust-up – this time with his own manager!

Mancini lost his cool with a fellow countryman after seeing Balotelli commit a crude foul and then refuse to leave the field as requested.

WATCH: Balotelli’s dizzy penalty fail

The pair squared up, forcing assistant manager Brian Kidd to step in as mediator, but Mancini was quick to brush the incident under the carpet afterwards and pledge his unwavering support to a man many considered to be a lost cause.

He said: “I will give him another 100 chances if possible, if I think he can change. I am here for this. Sometimes I am upset with him because he doesn’t do everything [I ask], but I give him another chance, sure. He is 22 and he can do a mistake.”


Andy Carroll v Steven Taylor – 2010


Andy Carroll Newcastle 2010

Two north east natives got a little hot under the collar during a Newcastle United training session in March 2010.

Carroll was said to have confronted his colleague after discovering that Taylor had been texting his ex-girlfriend.

Things then spiralled out of control, with the latter suffering a broken jaw and the former a busted hand.

Taylor would need to have his jaw wired, keeping him out of action for the rest of the season, while Carroll was also forced under the knife.

Remarkably, at the time of the incident, the now West Ham United striker was already on bail and awaiting a Crown Court trial over an alleged assault at a city centre nightclub.

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