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Calling all temperamental strikers, 2016 is your year.
After an explosion from Chelsea’s Diego Costa over the past month, global soccer fans have been treated to another resurgence, from an oftentimes troubled striker. In fact, this one may be even more shocking. Mario Balotelli is back.
Of course, it’s early in the season, and there’s still plenty of time for Balotelli to mess things up (he certainly has that track record), but Super Mario’s start to his Ligue 1 career has been nothing short of incredible. Balotelli bagged his second brace of the season in just his third appearance for Nice Wednesday, and doesn’t seem to fancy stopping any time soon.
This should come as a massive surprise to anyone who follows the world’s game, as Balotelli scored just one goal all of last season in Serie A, while he was on loan with AC Milan. The year before that, he had just one goal too, as he struggled for playing time under Brendan Rogers at Liverpool. However, once considered a world-class talent, Balotelli seems determined to get his career back on track, and judging by his first few games in France, he’s well on his way.
Of course, the critics will deride this performance, saying that while he can do it in Ligue 1, that hardly puts him back into the elite group of strikers worldwide. Ligue 1 is certainly considered a good league, but it hardly holds up when compared to the competition in England, Spain, Germany, or even Italy. Thus, it’s no wonder that a player like Balotelli has found scoring so easy in his new home.
However, when you look at the actual competition he’s faced, that argument feels a bit flimsy.
His first brace came against Olympique Marseilles, one of the most decorated teams in French football. While they are hardly the giants they used to be, Marseilles remain one of the better sides in France, and regularly produce young players that move on to bigger teams. Additionally, his second brace came against AS Monaco, the top of Ligue 1 heading into their clash with Nice. That same Monaco side beat PSG, the only French team that seems to get respect worldwide, 3-1 just a few weeks earlier in their season opener, yet could not contain Balotelli.
Sure, Mario may be scoring in Ligue 1, but he’s doing it against some of the best competition Ligue 1 has to offer.
Considering where his career has taken him over the past year, it’s downright shocking to see Mario scoring with ease in any European league. Over the summer, it appeared that both Milan and Liverpool were so desperate to get rid of him they would pay a club just to take Balotelli off their hands.
Additionally, his once promising Italy career stalled after a very successful Euro 2012, despite the lack of striking talent in the Italian national pool. However, when you consider that Sebastian Giovinco was able to get a national team call up for his performance in MLS, a successful season in France should thrust Balotelli right back into the national team picture. That’s exactly where he wants to be.
Whatever the motivation for Balotelli’s resurgence, this will remain one of the most exciting storylines in world soccer all year. Mario was once considered the future best striker in the world, and while it’s unlikely that he ever realizes that talent, resurrecting his career into something respectable would be a welcome sight to all soccer fans.
If Balotelli truly is back, I bet there will be a line of clubs willing to take a risk on the Italian striker come the summer transfer window. Whether or not he can keep this up remains to be seen.