Hexagoal Ligue 1 Trophy

Super Mario to make nice with Nice?

Publish on 07/03/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS


The Derby du Sud - the Derby of the South - always has a healthy dose of passion, but Sunday's encounter between Olympique de Marseille and OGC Nice will have added spice in the form of Mario Balotelli.

The volatile but brilliant Italy striker has always been the centre of attention at every club he has played at, be it Inter or AC Milan, Manchester City or Liverpool. It was also true of Nice, the club he joined in summer 2016 with his career in the balance after a difficult period under Jürgen Klopp at Anfield.

Two seasons, and most importantly 33 goals in 51 Ligue 1 Conforama matches later, and Mario Balotelli was again a forward worthy of his 'Super Mario' nickname with his strikes helping OGC Nice finish third in his first season - their best finish since the mid-70s - and a more than respectable eighth last term.


Under former Inter teammate Patrick Vieira, the first half of the 2018-19 campaign was a struggle, with ten goalless and lacklustre displays from the 28-year-old, who was clearly battling for full fitness. Come January, enter Olympique de Marseille, and the move has reignited the undisputed talent and fire inside Balotelli.

"I felt good at Nice in past years, but I needed to change. I wanted to come to Marseille. From that moment, it was difficult," said Balotelli after scoring in the 2-0 win against fellow top-four challengers AS Saint-Étienne on Sunday to take his tally to four goals in six league outings for OM. "I have started well, but I have always started well everywhere I have gone, it's important to continue well."

The start of something beautiful...

If he does that, he will have the considerable support of Marseille's passionate fans, who were heavily involved in the unique celebration that only Balotelli could dream up when he filmed himself, his teammates and thousands of delirious supporters going wild in the wake of his goal against Saint-Étienne.

"I had given my telephone to an OM journalist. I told him to go behind the goal, that I was going to do a video if I scored," said Balotelli, who posted the clip on Instagram. "Each time I do something, it goes right around the world."

'I always want to score and win'

Balotelli will no doubt make headlines around the globe again on Monday should he maintain his fine goalscoring form - and keep Marseille in contention for a top-three finish and UEFA Champions League football next season - against his former club.

"It's a great game that I want to play in," said Balotelli of coming face-to-face with the players he called teammates when he featured for Nice against Marseille earlier in the season. "It's going to be great. They're my former teammates, but I always want to score and win. It's different, because it's against Nice, but I want to win."

Garcia: 'Quite considered, quite calm'

He has already won over his new teammates and coach.

"I'm getting to know him. I've been very surprised by the character of this player, who's really liked by his teammates, who's happy and always smiling," explained Rudi Garcia, whose fluent Italian language skills - honed during his spell as AS Roma coach - will also help Balotelli settle. "That obviously also means that he feels very good with us. I really find him quite considered, quite calm."

No more Mr Nice guy

That is a description that cannot be applied to the atmosphere inside the stadium on Sunday when Balotelli & Co. step out into their club's magnificent arena to be greeted by a boisterous crowd of over 50,000.

And all eyes will be on Balotelli, especially those of the Nice defenders. "We know everything Mario can do. We're going to have to be careful with him," explained the Côte d'Azur club's captain and centre-back Dante. "He's an unpredictable player who can score at any moment. He's a friend, but on the pitch it's different."