Balotelli told ‘nothing is impossible’ as Vieira suggests Italian may have Nice future

Mario Balotelli may be enduring a tough time at Nice, but a January departure is not guaranteed as Patrick Vieira says “nothing is impossible” for the enigmatic Italian.

Having enjoyed a productive two years in French football following his arrival as a free agent in 2016, the 28-year-old has endured a testing third season.

He has taken in just 10 appearances during the 2018-19 campaign and is yet to open his goal account.

Those struggles, and questioning of his attitude from manager Vieira, have sparked talk of an impending exit.

Balotelli has been granted time to “think about his future”, having not figured in Nice’s last four games, with an extended break offered to him after the festive period.

Vieira is, however, leaving the door open for a player he has criticised at regular intervals, with the former Liverpool and Manchester City still under contract until the summer.

“Mario is still here,” said Vieira.

“He’s a player who is under contract, but Mario is still here. Mario is still part of the squad.

Mario Balotelli Nice 2018-19

“He’s in a situation where he needs to think about his future in terms of what he wants to do and his options.

“We’re waiting for him to come back to know what he wants to do.

“Nothing is impossible, from the moment when a player is under contract nothing is impossible.”

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Balotelli had previously netted 18 times in his debut campaign with Nice, before raising that goal tally to 26 across all competitions last season.

Those exploits sparked considerable interest in his services during the summer transfer window of 2018, while also earning him a recall to the Italy squad under Roberto Mancini.

He has, however, been unable to maintain those standards, with his career to date having been one of peaks and troughs as he struggles to truly fulfil his undoubted potential.

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Balotelli & Vieira’s broken relationship has become just as bad as Pogba-Mourinho

Sacked Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is not the only boss to have failed to harness a high-profile player for the benefit of his club this season.

While Paul Pogba appears to have come out on top in the clash of personalities at Old Trafford, around 1,500 kilometres to the south east, former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira has tried and failed to get a handle on the mercurial Mario Balotelli in Nice.

It has been a campaign in which nothing has gone right for the Italian, who got off on entirely on the wrong foot with his new coach in the summer when he appeared late and out-of-shape for pre-season training. 

Vieira, a former team-mate of the striker at Manchester City and Inter, was quick to pounce on the 28-year-old, who under erstwhile boss Lucien Favre had shown genuine signs of growing maturity in the two previous campaigns in which he had scored 15 and 18 Ligue 1 goals respectively, elevating him back to the level of Italy international.

But the last time he found the net was for the Azzurri against Saudi Arabia in May, and Vieira has simply had enough.

Officially injured for last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Saint-Etienne, he was left out of the goalless Coupe de la Ligue clash against Guingamp in midweek, which Nice lost on penalties, while the coach will not include him in the team to travel to Strasbourg on Saturday.

A World Cup winner in 1998, Vieira had envisaged a leadership role for Balotelli in his Nice side, but that proved too much of a burden for a player who has performed at his best when he has only had to worry about himself. 

Speaking last year, Balotelli revealed what is required to get the best from players like himself: “I would try to limit my compliments. Instead, try to break his balls, because I know when all seems calm, it’s a problem.

“When someone treads on my toes, then I get angry and I do more. It’s important to learn from your mistakes.”

Mario Balotelli Nice 2018

While there have been elements of a hard-line approach in Vieira’s management of the player, he has tried to be understanding, too.

Canal +’s ‘Mister Vieira’ programme captured an intimate conversation between the two men that helped reveal their relationship following a training session.

“We didn’t put two passes together. It’s hard to play like that,” the Italian complained. “There were four metres between us and I only had four good passes in 20 minutes work.”

“And what did you say?” asked the coach softly.

“Nothing,” the striker replied.

“That’s not good.”

“Today, for example,” the Italian added, “I missed a shot. I sent the ball well over the bar. I get angry because I want to score. They miss and tell you: ‘It’ll be fine next time.’ No, f**k you! You miss, you get angry!”

“You’re like that – that’s why you played for these big clubs,” Vieira said.

“I want to go back and play with these teams,” the striker interjected.

His coach replied: “I know, and it’s still possible. But you need the help of your team-mates. And to have that help, you must be an example, you must be the one who is an example to others that to do well you have to get involved.”

Mario Balotelli GFX

Balotelli, though, has not provided the example that his coach wanted.

In fact, the opposite is true, with reports of the Italian squaring up to the coach during a friendly against Frejus in November, throwing the tactics board to the ground after his substitution in Nimes, and visiting the toilet during a team talk against Guingamp.

Just as in Manchester, where Mourinho and Pogba exchanged blows in public, the same scenario has played out on the Cote d’Azur. 

Vieira has branded his star player’s performances as “average”, while Balotelli has responded with persistent shows of petulance that have undermined the coach, who is undertaking his first major role in Europe after cutting his teeth with New York City in MLS.

“When it comes to Mario, I want to answer back, or just slam him up against the wall or leave him hanging by his collar on the coat rack, but I can’t, as I’m no longer a player,” Vieira told L’Equipe .

“I have to think twice before I say anything, because it can have an impact and I risk losing a great player. I don’t want to say something I’ll regret.

“I am trying to be constructive in my comments to him.”

Nice excelled in recent seasons under Lucien Favre, who departed in the summer and has since taken Dortmund storming to the top of the Bundesliga, precisely because they were able to get the best from the striker, who at a reported €500,000 per month is comfortably the club’s highest earner.

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Yet to score this season, Balotelli is not providing anything close to value for money, and while a departure in the summer is inevitable, recent developments mean that Nice would be open to offloading the misfiring attacker sooner.

“Officially he’s under contract with us,” Vieira said on Thursday, “but anything is still possible.” 

If Pogba won his battle of wills at Old Trafford with Mourinho, there have been no winners on France’s south coast: Nice, Vieira and Balotelli have all suffered in this frustrating stalemate, regardless of the outcome. 

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‘I’d only seen Ronaldo on a PlayStation!’ – Kean living the dream at Juventus

Moise Kean says he living out his childhood dreams by playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus, and also revealed that Mario Balotelli was his idol growing up.

At just 18 years of age, a highly-rated talent in Turin is already a record-breaker and a frontman considered to boast considerable potential.

He is not the first Italian to fall into that bracket, with some enigmatic performers having gone before him.

Few fit that category more than current Nice striker Balotelli, with the former Inter, Manchester City and Liverpool star a player Kean admires for his actions on the field, not off it.

The exciting teenager told RMC Sport: “He was my idol, but only for how he played. 

“He’s a good boy, he gives me lots of advice because he does not want me to live what he’s been through.”

Balotelli is enduring a tough time at present, with two productive years in France being followed by a testing third.

Kean, though, is still treading an impressive learning curve in Turin, with the summer arrival of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo aiding his ongoing development.

He said of the iconic Portuguese: “CR7? I had only seen him on the Play Station before!

“Playing with him has improved me a lot, I learn a lot from him as well as from the other champions with the Bianconeri.”

Moise Kean Juventus

While seeking to make the most of his time alongside Ronaldo, an imminent move away from Juventus has been mooted for Kean.

It has been suggested that a loan switch would benefit him in January, but no decision has been made as yet.

Kean said of his future: “Will I move in January? I do not know what will happen. 

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“I do not know and I cannot say what will happen yet. 

“The club will decide. They will make their evaluations and we will see.”

Kean has taken in just two appearances for Juventus this season, but was handed his senior bow for Italy in November during a friendly clash with the United States.

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Balotelli ‘expects to be scoring on one leg’ says Vieira as goal drought continues

Patrick Vieira is prepared to be patient in order to get the best out of Mario Balotelli as the striker works through his goal-scoring drought.

The Nice manager, whose team take on Saint-Etienne on Sunday, has seen the Italian draw blanks in every game he has played in Ligue 1 this season, but believes he has little alternative but to stick with his misfiring front-man.

Nice have scored just 12 goals in 16 games this season, yet still sit seventh in the league, just four points outside of the Champions League places.

And Vieira feels he is undergoing an education in man-management in dealing with Balotelli’s temperament, as he seeks to help him rediscover the form that once made him one of the most sought-after young players in Europe.

“A club like Nice cannot afford to lose a [Allan] Saint-Maximin or a Balotelli,” Vieira told L’Equipe, with Saint-Maxim having also struggled for goals this season. “So, if I have to explain to them 20 times, I will explain to them 20 times, because I have this patience.”

“He (Balotelli) did not expect to be scoreless. He thought that even on one leg, he would have scored more. But football remains a high-level sport; there is a minimum to be competitive.”

Balotelli has struggled with disciplinary problems throughout his career and has repeatedly been accused of lacking application, failing to live up to sky-high expectations at Manchester City, AC Milan and Liverpool.

He signed for Nice in 2016 in what was widely thought to be his last opportunity to deliver in one of Europe’s top leagues, and scored 33 league goals in his first two seasons as the club massively exceeded expectations in Ligue 1.

But his manager has been critical of his match preparations and physical condition this term.

“He misses the preparation, his head is elsewhere,” said Vieira. “He comes back in a physical state that was not his in May, it does not come back overnight because you do not play against bad teams every weekend.

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“If I leave him out, I do not hesitate to do so, because I have to be fair to him and to the group. 

“I’m no longer a player, I have to think twice before saying something because it can have an impact, I risk losing a player and regret it, I try to be constructive.”

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Game over at Nice for Super Mario: Is goal-less Balotelli finished at the highest level?

When Mario Balotelli was replaced after 75 minutes of Nice’s bland scoreless draw against Guingamp, he gave an insight into his current frame of mind.

The Italian striker trudged off disgruntled, exchanged a couple of apparently pointed words with head coach Patrick Vieira, pointed a finger at the former Arsenal midfielder and threw his gloves off in disgust.

Balotelli is not one to hide his emotions, and at that moment the frustration of what has been a wretched season overflowed. Though he has endured – and sometimes even enjoyed – a tumultuous career, he has rarely been through a period as fallow as he is currently experiencing.

The 28-year-old remains searching for his first goal of the season, approaching the middle of December and with over 12 hours of competitive football under his belt.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, his club feel they are not receiving value for money and announced on Thursday that at the end of the season their three-year relationship will rupture. There will be no fight to keep him.

Back in May, things could not have looked any more different. He was coming off the back of a 26-goal season at the Allianz Riviera and had been rewarded by Italy boss Roberto Mancini with a first call to the national team since the 2014 World Cup.


WHY ALWAYS ME? HOW BALOTELLI’S LATEST TROUBLES BEGAN


Much of the trouble has been of his own making and dates back to the summer, when he was embroiled in a bitter contract dispute with the Ligue 1 club.

Agent Mino Raiola was busy touting his client as one of the bargains of the transfer window, advertising him as a player worth €100m and claiming he was out of contract and that a raft of top clubs from all over Europe were chasing him.

Concrete interest, however, barely emerged. Marseille did have a sniff but ultimately felt the Italian was going to prove too expensive because of the fee his representative was demanding.

In conjunction with this problem, a strike that saw him miss Nice’s pre-season left him badly out of shape and he is still playing catch up. Additionally, it left his reputation in a tattered state with new boss Vieira, who had replaced Lucien Favre in the summer.

While Balotelli seemed to have something of a love-hate relationship with the now Dortmund boss, it seemed to work.

“Mario needs support, needs us to speak to him,” Favre said in October 2017 when discussing the best way to manage the prickly Italian.

Mario Balotelli Nice 2018

Vieira, perhaps lacking the experience of the Swiss in man management or perhaps because he genuinely did not believe he would have to handle such a character, has been a little less coherent on the status of his former Manchester City team-mate.

Speaking after Balotelli failed to report for pre-season training, he certainly seemed to indicate the striker had no future at the club.

“It’s a shame because he spent two beautiful years here, he built a very good relationship with the club and the supporters. It’s a shame that it ends like this. That he wants to leave is not a problem, it’s part of football today. But to ruin two seasons like that, it’s a shame,” he said.

His stance has since softened, despite suggesting that the forward has not matured since he was 16 and also indiscreetly describing the Italian’s performances as “less than average”.

“I’m OK with the players when they’re not happy to come off, but it’s important to understand that it’s my role to make choices,” he said in the aftermath of the Guingamp spat. “I’m not the personal trainer of Mario Balotelli, of Allan Saint-Maximin, of Dante or of Wylan Cyprien, I’m the coach of Nice.”


WHY BALOTELLI IS NOT SOLELY TO BLAME


If Balotelli’s goal scoring output has been disappointing, his attitude on the field has largely been positive, with his defensive work-rate notably improved. Goals, however, have not followed.

He has had 34 efforts in Ligue 1 this season, with only seven finding the target. None have yet to beat a goalkeeper.

In contrast, he had 109 shots in the 2017-18 season, hitting the target 52 times and netting, on average, around once every six. If he enjoyed a similar ratio this term, he would be sitting on five or six goals. 

But while his production has gone down, so too has that of other key offensive players like Saint-Maximin and Pierre Lees-Melou. 

Mario Balotelli Nice 2016

Jean-Michael Seri’s departure to Fulham in the summer might certainly have played a role, but there is little doubt that Vieira does not have his team functioning in a smooth manner offensively. 

The coach admits that there are issues that stretch beyond the centre forward.

“We have a collective problem,” he admitted. “We want the ball too much to our feet and we don’t attack space enough.

“Mario is in need of confidence. It shows in his shooting. Everyone needs to be behind him: the club, the staff, the players and the fans. He’s important for us.”


WHO COULD SIGN BALOTELLI?


Vieira would reportedly be content for Balotelli to leave the club this January, with Club Brugge forward Wesley the man earmarked to replace him at the Allianz Riviera.

But that is only part of the story. Who would currently take a risk on Balotelli, who is out of form and commands a giant wage packet?

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The Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner has told the Philadelphia Inquirer that a move would not “make sense” after his side were linked with the forward, who has in turn said he would not return to AC Milan.

Perhaps likelier is a rekindling of interest from the Chinese Super League, where he was offered a giant pay packet in the summer.

For the moment, though, Mario is set to stay in Nice, where he will have to find his form quickly if he is to earn the type of move he wants at the end of the season.

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