Balotelli beasted by Dante as fiery Italian told to take more responsibility

Mario Balotelli has been told to stop making excuses and take more responsibility for his actions by Nice team-mate Dante.

The enigmatic 28-year-old has taken in a colourful career to date, with his name never far from the headlines.

Another eventful campaign has been opened in 2018-19, with a summer of transfer speculation seeing the former Manchester City and Liverpool striker eventually decide to stay put.

He was then returned to the Italy fold, only to be subsequently dropped by Roberto Mancini as questions over his physical condition surfaced.

Balotelli has rubbished claims of his weight leading to fines at Nice, but his club form has done little to help his cause.

Another disappointing showing was put in against Montpellier on Saturday, with Dante among those to criticise his efforts in the wake of a 1-0 defeat.

The Brazilian defender told Canal+: “It’s up to him to step up and take charge in attack, to take on some responsibility.

“He’s not in great shape physically, we know that, but it’s up to him to work and train to improve his fitness levels.

“At some point, he simply has to take control of the situation.

“There’s no point blaming the team and saying we don’t get the best out of his qualities. No!

“There were times when the team didn’t play so well and I defended them, but we must always be self-critical and question ourselves at every turn to make sure we’re doing our best.”

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Balotelli followed up a 17-goal debut campaign with Nice by netting 26 times across all competitions last season.

A return to form saw him linked with several leading clubs across Europe before the decision was taken to stay in France.

Big things were expected of him in 2018-19, but he has seen just 166 minutes of Ligue 1 action so far and is still waiting on a first goal.

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Balotelli backed by Nice team-mate amid overweight claims

Nice striker Mario Balotelli has been backed by midfielder Pierre Lees-Melou after reports that the former Manchester City star reported for pre-season training overweight.

Balotelli scored 26 goals in 38 games for the Ligue 1 club last season, as they finished eighth.

However, reports claimed that he returned from his holidays weighing 103 kilograms, with his ideal weight said to be nearer to 86kg.

Balotelli took to social media to rubbish the rumours, writing on Instagram: “Fined for being overweight? Look at my physique! It makes me laugh hearing things like that about my weight.

“P*** off with your invented rubbish.”

And Lees Melou has now echoed his team-mate’s sentiments, insisting that he is training well.

“He is doing well and he is working a lot,” said the 25-year-old midfielder, per RMC Sport.

“If you see him, you’ll see him for yourself. He works very well, he is very fit and very sharp, so I do not worry about him.”

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Balotelli missed the first three games of the season through suspension but was left out against Rennes because of a calf injury after featuring in the 1-0 win over Lyon.

“Of course, we all know Mario,” Melou added.

“We know the good he has done in the different clubs he has played, and also in Nice, but he is coming back.”

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Balotelli mocks ‘invented garbage’ of weight fine claims

Mario Balotelli has hit out at those claiming he has been fined by Nice for being overweight, with the fiery frontman branding the reports “invented garbage”.

It had been suggested that the striker’s Ligue 1 employers had taken action on the back of a frustrating start to the season.

Balotelli, after a summer of speculation regarding his future, was said to have returned to the fold carrying a few extra pounds.

Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere told Nice Matin: “Mario will have a great season because we’ll put him in the best condition and because he’s a great player.

“However, Nice don’t have the habit of treating certain players differently.”

Balotelli faced further criticism and questions after a disappointing outing for Italy against Poland which saw him left out of the squad to face Portugal three days later.

He was then not involved when Nice took on Rennes in Ligue 1.

The enigmatic 28-year-old has, however, blasted back at those who have suggested that his absence is down to physical issues.

He posted on Instagram: “Me fined for being overweight? 1 Look at the physique I’ve got! It’s laughable that you talk of me being overweight.

“2 Now go **** yourselves with your invented garbage! Now you even say I’ve been fined? Whoever wrote that ought to lose their job.”

Mario Balotelli weight issues response

While clearly irked by the reports of weight problems, Balotelli has been able to see the funny side.

Another social media post read: “I just took this selfie! All doubts cast aside!”

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Mario Balotelli weight issues response

Without Balotelli, Nice edged out Rennes 2-1 on Friday to move into the top half of Ligue 1.

It could be that their Italian forward makes his first appearance of the season next time out against Montpellier, with the former Manchester City and Liverpool star looking to build on a 43-goal haul over the last two campaigns.

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Asensio, Balotelli and the winners and losers of international week


WINNER: MARCUS RASHFORD


Marcus Rashford England 2018-19

Many England players emerged from the World Cup with their reputations enhanced. It must be said that Marcus Rashford wasn’t one of those.

While the country fell in love with the likes of Kieran Trippier and Harry Maguire, Rashford was somewhat on the fringes and did not contribute a lot to the English charge to the semi-finals.

He has however started the new cycle in fine form.

England may have lost against Spain on Saturday in their UEFA Nations League opener but Rashford was bright and busy, scoring the opener and serving a reminder of his capabilities to the onlooking Jose Mourinho.

He was efficient in front of goal on Tuesday as well when England beat Switzerland in a friendly at the King Power Stadium, scoring the only goal of the game.

It’s been a difficult start to the Premier League season for Rashford – and indeed for Manchester United as a whole – but goals in back-to-back games for the first time for his country will do his confidence the world of good.


WINNER: GEORGE WEAH


George Weah

Some 15 years after his retirement, the president of Liberia George Weah made an incredible international comeback in a 2-1 home defeat to Nigeria.

Weah, Africa’s only Ballon d’Or winner, was to be honoured at the game in the Samuel Doe Stadium in Monrovia where his legendary No. 14 shirt was to be retired.

Those in attendance were taken by surprise when Weah – now aged 51 – led the Lone Stars out with the captain’s armband instead of merely watching from the stands.

He lasted an impressive 79 minutes and by all accounts put in quite a shift despite a paunch reflecting his years of good living. James Debbah – one of Weah’s former international team-mates – also played aged 48.

There are repercussions in Nigeria where many are demanding answers on why the NFF agreed to send a senior representative team to play in a glorified friendly.

For the president – elected in a runoff last December – it was a fond farewell on the same night his son Timothy played for the United States against Mexico.


WINNER: RICHARLISON


Richarlison Brazil El Salvador Friendly 11092018

A strong start to the season for new club Everton preceded a first call-up to the Brazil squad for Richarlison, who took Pedro’s place late in the day.

And having been handed the legendary No. 9 shirt by Tite, the £50 million man made quite the impression on his first start for his country.

He won an early penalty against El Salvador in a Stateside friendly – which Neymar converted – before Richarlison stole the show himself in front of goal.

Brazil won 5-0 – to add to their 2-0 win last week over the United States – and Richarlison provided the pick of the bunch.

He scored in either half; the first a curler into the top corner and the second a powerful effort from the edge of the box.

With that performance and those goals, he will have served notice of his abilities to Tite, who is plotting the next stage of Brazil’s cycle after a disappointing World Cup.


WINNER: MARCO ASENSIO


Marco Asensio Spain 2018-19

Long heralded as one of the coming forces in world football, this is expected to be the season Marco Asensio stands among the elites.

He has won two Champions Leagues with Real Madrid but now with Cristiano Ronaldo gone he will step up to become one of the European champions’ key players.

And for his country too, Asensio looks ready to become a superstar.

Spain have won six points from six in their opening Nations League fixtures and on Tuesday night Asensio ran the game against Croatia.

The World Cup semi-finalists were smashed 6-0 by Spain with Asensio providing three assists as well as a stunning long-range strike of his own.


LOSERS: ITALY AND BALOTELLI


Balotelli Italy Poland

This was supposed to mark the start of a new era under Roberto Mancini.

The 2006 World Cup winners failed to qualify for this year’s tournament and so a new regime took over. Italy, however, look scarcely better for swapping Giampiero Ventura for the former Inter manager.

They were lacklustre and out of ideas in a 1-1 draw against Poland before succumbing to a 1-0 loss against Portugal on Monday. 

Alarmingly, they have won a total of two matches in a year of football – a World Cup qualifier against Albania and a friendly against Saudi Arabia. They are a team bereft of confidence and ability.

One thing they have been lacking is firepower in front of goal. Mario Balotelli being sent back to his club for being a reported 15 kilograms overweight will not have helped the cause and they are already looking at Nations League relegation.


LOSERS: IRELAND AND ROY KEANE


Roy Keane Ireland

Controversy is raging in Ireland with assistant manager Roy Keane predictably at the centre of things.

A leaked WhatsApp voice message from left-back Stephen Ward detailed two extraordinary training camp rows between Keane and Irish internationals Jonathan Walters and Harry Arter. It has led to calls for Keane’s sacking given the manner in which he addressed the players and brought questions about exactly what it is he does in Martin O’Neill’s regime.

That overshadowed things to such an extent that it was easy to forget Ireland were hammered in their opening Nations League fixture against Wales before giving up a late draw away to Poland in a friendly.

The Irish public has simply been turned off the national team given the poor levels of performance in recent games and the lack of anything approaching a shake-up – in the boardroom, the dugout or on the pitch.

The rot has well and truly set in.


LOSERS: ICELAND


Iceland Belgium Nations League

The surprise team of Euro 2016 have long since shed their underdog tag and are struggling with life at a higher level.

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They qualified well for the World Cup but could not get out of their group. Now their failings are being exposed in the Nations League.

They were annihilated 6-0 by Switzerland on matchday one before the boos rang out in Reykjavik on matchday two as Belgium ran riot with a 3-0 victory.

It was their first home defeat since June 2013 and a demoralising one at that given they were in the game until Eden Hazard scored from the penalty spot.

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Nice manager Vieira bemoans lack of aggression after ‘catastrophic’ defeat

Nice manager Patrick Vieira bemoaned a lack of aggression from his side after they slumped to a “catastrophic” 4-0 defeat to Dijon in Ligue 1.

The top-flight French outfit have taken just one point from their opening three games of the new campaign, with their loss at the Allianz Riviera to Olivier Dall’Oglio their heaviest defeat of the season so far.

Naif Aguerd put Dijon ahead in the 67th minute before the visitors made the game safe late on through Oussama Haddadi and a late Jules Keita double to keep the visitors at the top alongside Paris Saint-Germain.

It is a harsh contrast to Vieira’s first triumvirate of matches, and the former New York City boss was left to rue his side’s inability to take their chances.

“This is a catastrophic scenario for us,” the 42-year-old said. “Losing 4-0 at home is hard to accept.

“We have created many opportunities without scoring. We were shy. The message to the players at the end of the match was this: Playing well is not enough. We need more. We did not get it tonight.

“Defeat is due to lack of success and aggression. We lack character, personality and aggressiveness.

“That’s why this scenario has become catastrophic. We do not have enough players to carry the team up.

Vieira however remains confident that his current crop of players, including star forward Mario Balotelli, have more than enough composure to turn around their fortunes.

“It is when one is in difficulty that you see the character of each one,” he added. “It’s a nice challenge to take up.

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“This lack of rigour and aggressiveness summarises the first matches. We are in difficulty, but I believe in this group, in the players.

“We will work to react from the next match.”

Nice next travel to Lyon, seeking their first win of the season, on August 31 before a fortnight off for the international break. They then return to action at home to Rennes on September 15.

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