Nice manager taking hardline approach with new star Balotelli
PARIS (AP) Mario Balotelli turned down offers from other European teams before joining Nice because he was looking for playing time.
But his new coach has already warned the former Liverpool player that his superstar status won’t guarantee him a spot in his starting lineup.
Balotelli joined the French club on deadline day this week for an undisclosed fee after being offloaded by Liverpool, hoping to revive his chaotic career at the Riviera club.
The 26-year-old Italian - the biggest name in the French league since Zlatan Ibrahimovic left Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season - managed only four goals in 28 appearances for Liverpool and spent last season on loan at AC Milan, where he found the net once in 20 league appearances.
“I’ve told Mario what I expect him to do,” Nice coach Lucien Favre said Friday. “I told him I don’t make any difference between my players, only the best play. Mario needs to get back down to work. He went through four difficult years and it will be a long-term endeavor. But he has enormous skills. When you look at his highlights, he does amazing things.”
Given Balotelli’s antics on and off the field, Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere acknowledged that he “took a risk” by signing the striker.
“I think that my career is different from what has been written,” said Balotelli, who was presented to the media on Friday. “For me there is no risk, it’s just that I have been hampered by physical problems over the past two years.”
Balotelli then refused to take a question from a journalist who asked if the numerous night clubs in and around Nice could be a distraction.
Rivere said that the striker also turned down a last-minute offer that was more attractive financially than the deal he ultimately sealed with Nice.
“My priority is to play, that’s why I chose the Nice project,” Balotelli said through a translator. “To be happy, I need to play.”
Balotelli was signed by then-Liverpool manager Brenan Rodgers late in the 2014 transfer window for 16 million pounds (then $27 million) as a replacement for Luis Suarez. But the gamble never paid off, with the former Manchester City player better known for his controversies than his goals.
“Part of my job is about improving the players,” Favre said. “We don’t know where (Balotelli) stands physically and we’ve got a lot of work to do because this is the foundation for playing good football. I’m not worried about the rest: his technical level and his efficiency in front of goal.”