Balotelli sees transfer door opened by Roma ahead of free agency

A return to Serie A could be on the cards for Mario Balotelli after Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco confirmed his desire to coach the Nice striker, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

Italy international Balotelli came through the ranks at Inter as a teenager and looked destined to become one of the world’s elite players.

However, subsequent spells with Manchester City and AC Milan only saw the technically gifted forward impress in flashes, with consistency lacking from his game amid disciplinary issues.

A move to Liverpool in 2014 proved an unmitigated disaster for Balotelli, as he managed just 16 Premier League appearances and scored only one goal, before a disappointing loan return to Milan for the 2015-16 campaign.

However, the 27-year-old has found his feet once again at Nice, notching 28 times in 42 Ligue 1 games since the start of last season and his agent Mino Raiola claimed on Thursday he will be heading back to England or Serie A, with Roma interested.

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Speaking to reporters about Balotelli, Di Francesco said: “I’d coach him.

“I spoke to him two years ago about bringing him to Sassuolo, but nothing came of it. Still, he’s an interesting player with huge quality.”

Roma find themselves in a tussle for Champions League football this season and face the unenviable prospect of heading to brilliant pacesetters Napoli on Saturday.

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Di Francesco is well aware of the task facing his players, lauding the impact his opposite number Maurizio Sarri has had on Napoli.

“Napoli are in great condition, both psychologically and physically, and led by one of the best coaches around,” Di Francesco said.

“Maurizio Sarri is one of the best coaches in Italy. He has changed his playing system over time, but he has always stayed true to his footballing philosophy.”


€100m Balotelli in talks to return to Italy or England, says Raiola

Mario Balotelli is worth €100 million and set to return to Italy or England, according to his agent Mino Raiola.

The 27-year-old forward is out of contract at Nice at the end of the season, having scored 21 goals in 29 games in all competitions this campaign.

Balotelli has enjoyed two strong seasons at the Ligue 1 club, but appears set to return to the Serie A or the Premier League.

Raiola claimed he had spoken to several clubs about Balotelli, but he ruled out a return to AC Milan for the 33-time Italy international.

“Mario is ready to come back to Italy. He is one of the 10 best strikers in the world, and the number one in Italy,” he told RAI.

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“He is worth €100m, but he is a free agent so he is a bargain.

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“I’m already negotiating with many teams in England and Italy. I talked with Juventus, Roma, Napoli, Inter.”

On AC Milan, he added: “No, because there is [sporting director Massimiliano] Mirabelli and I can’t talk with him, I’m not at his level.”

Balotelli played for Inter and Milan in the Serie A and Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League prior to his move to Nice.


Di Biagio expects Buffon to return to Italy squad

Italy caretaker boss Luigi Di Biagio expects Gianluigi Buffon to return to international duty for the friendlies with Argentina and England next month.

Juventus veteran Buffon announced his retirement from the Azzurri, along with club-mates Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini and Roma’s Daniele De Rossi, after the defeat to Sweden in the World Cup play-off in November.

Di Biagio does not think Barzagli or De Rossi will reverse their decisions before next month but believes Italy’s record caps-holder, along with Chiellini, will make at least a temporary return.

“I had some meetings with the veterans because I understood some of them wanted to quit,” Di Biagio told a news conference at the start of a training camp at Coverciano.

“I talked to Buffon to find out if he wanted to continue. It’s not fair that his last game should be the one against Sweden. I proposed he should come back for one, two or three games. Gigi will probably be there in March.

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“With the other players, without going into detail, I spoke with many of them. Barzagli and De Rossi will not be there, Chiellini yes.

“We want to relaunch the team with enthusiasm.”

Even if Buffon does not extend his international career beyond March, Di Biagio is confident about Italy’s goalkeeping options in the future, with Gianluigi Donnarumma, Mattia Perin and Alex Meret among those vying for the position.

“We’re doing well with goalkeepers when you look at the next 20 years,” he said. “When Buffon stops, we’ll still have our backs covered.

“Gigi’s story doesn’t have to end with that Sweden game.”

Di Biagio also hinted at a possible recall for Mario Balotelli next month.

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The striker has not played an international match since the 2014 World Cup but has turned his career around somewhat in Nice, scoring 13 goals in 19 Ligue 1 appearances this term.

“I follow him constantly,” he said. “When the time comes for the call-up, we’ll assess whether we want to take him or not.

“We haven’t made any decision yet. We’re in a difficult position and there isn’t a lot of choice, but we have to create the right enthusiasm after the disappointment of the World Cup.”


The long, sad story of Balotelli and racial abuse

On August 13, 2008, the day after he had turned 18, Mario Balotelli was belatedly granted citizenship by the country in which he had been born.

“I’m Italian,” the Inter striker proudly declared. “I feel Italian. I will always play for the Italian national team.

“This is even more exciting than making my debut in Serie A. The best birthday present I could receive now would be a call to join the Italy squad, although I’d be happy to play for the Under-21 team.”

Balotelli’s secondary wish was promptly granted and, the following summer, he was selected to represent his country at the European Under-21 Championship. 

Just before the team’s departure from Rome for the tournament in Denmark, coach Pierluigi Casiraghi allowed his Azzurrini some down time. During a stroll around ‘The Eternal City’, Balotelli and some of his team-mates were approached by a group of Roma supporters. 

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They racially abused Balotelli and threw bananas at him before fleeing when the carabinieri were called. In the face of such contemptible provocation, Balotelli remained calm. “Mario behaved exceptionally,” Casiraghi said afterwards. 

The 18-year-old declined the offer to file a complaint, dismissing the incident as “nothing”. And it was nothing to him. He had already seen and heard it all before. Even at that age, Balotelli had grown accustomed to being targeted by the most ignorant members of society.

His mere presence in the Azzurrini squad had already provoked fury among contributors to forums on right-wing sites such as Stormfront and White Front. The sight of a player born to Ghanaian parents but adopted by an Italian family was apparently too much for them to take. Sadly, they weren’t alone in that regard.

In April 2009, Balotelli was racially abused by Juventus fans throughout Inter’s 1-1 draw with the Bianconeri in Turin. “There are no black Italians,” they sang. Inter president Massimo Moratti was among those outraged by the chants.

“If I had been at the stadium, at a certain point I would have left my seat in the stand, I would have gone onto the pitch and I would have taken the team off,” he told the Gazzetta dello Sport. “They seemed proud and happy to sing those things. This is terrible.”

The authorities, unsurprisingly, didn’t deem such conduct quite so offensive, with Juve merely ordered to partially close a section of their stadium for one game.

Then-president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli issued a public apology to Balotelli and called for an end to such behaviour, but his words carried no weight. In Juve’s very next game, away to Chievo, the supporters continued their campaign of hate against Balotelli.

“If you jump up and down, Balotelli will die,” they defiantly roared.

By Euro 2012, Balotelli was no longer willing to ignore the insults. “I will not accept racism at all,” he declared in Poland. “It’s unacceptable. If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail, because I will kill them.

“But let’s see what happens at the Euros. I hope it will pass without a problem.”

Mario Balotelli PS

It didn’t. Balotelli was racially abused by both Croatia and Spain fans. The US-based website Stormfront was also shut down in Italy after saying of Balotelli: “He’s black and Jewish. He should play for Israel not Italy.”

The following year, AC Milan’s Serie A game against Roma was suspended for a minute and a half because of racist chants against Balotelli. Even then, he defended his compatriots, arguing that the small minority abusing him were more ignorant or jealous, rather than racist or prejudiced.

“Racist people are few and you can do nothing against [to change] them,” he told Time Magazine. “You can talk, you can do what you want, but you can’t do anything because they are just stupid people.

“When I wasn’t famous, I had a lot of friends, almost all of them Italian. The racism only started when I started to play football.”

Unfortunately, it’s never stopped, no matter where he’s played. He was racially abused while playing for Manchester City in Portugal and he has been racially abused while playing for Nice in France.

Last year, he was subjected to monkey chants during a game against Bastia, which resulted in the Corsicans being ordered to play three games behind closed doors. 

Last week he was booked after complaining to the referee about the abuse he was receiving from Djion supporters. It is the victim that is now being punished – not the culprit, meaning things have changed, just not for the better.

Balotelli was once asked how the incessant racist abuse made him feel. He replied, “A little bit alone.” Depressingly, that remains as true today as it was a decade ago.


Balotelli booking after racist abuse complaints ‘unacceptable and wrong’, says Kick It Out

Anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out has called for a “strong response” after a referee booked Nice striker Mario Balotelli for complaining about racist abuse from spectators in Saturday’s game against Dijon.

Balotelli drew jeers from the crowd in the second half of Nice’s 3-2 loss after seeing an overhead kick attempt fly wide of the goal. The attacker then pointed to the home end and complained to the referee, who then showed the 27-year-old a yellow card.

Kick It Out has criticised the official for disregarding UEFA’s policy for such situations, labelling his decision to punish Balotelli instead of taking action against the offenders “unacceptable and wrong”.

“Kick It Out was shocked to see Mario Balotelli booked for bringing to the attention of the referee alleged racist chanting directed towards him by Dijon supporters,” a statement read.

“It is unacceptable and wrong to see that once again, a match official has failed to apply the UEFA protocol – in place for a number of years – which requires action to be taken to stop the game to deal with the offending abuse.

“Although Kick It Out’s remit is within English football, the organisation has contacted anti-discrimination network Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) to see what actions they will be taking in raising this with Ligue 1 officials.

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“The organisation expects a strong response from the French football authorities in condemning both the alleged racist chanting from Dijon supporters and the failure of the referee to follow protocol to halt the behaviour, as well as the decision to compound Balotelli’s experience as a victim by booking him for merely asking the match official to do his job.”

The booking caused controversy with Nice, who tweeted: “Meanwhile, Mario Balotelli has picked up a yellow card, after… getting annoyed with racist insults from the public,” while their president said the officials’ treatment of his side had been “a scandal”.

According to L’Equipe, the French authorities will review the referee’s report and decide on a potential investigation into the incident.