Sunday was the day when the Ligue 1 title aspirations of Mario Balotelli and Nice surely died.
A 1-1 draw against Toulouse away from home means that they trail leading duo Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain by six points, while the former has a game in hand over the Cote d’Azur side.
Once again, Nice conceded the opening goal before fighting back thanks to a strike from Valentin Eysseric, yet that did not tell the whole story of a dramatic afternoon. Balotelli had been slated to start the match, yet illness struck him down and the Italy international striker was used only as a hail-Mary option with a couple of minutes remaining.
So badly was the ex-Liverpool man struggling, head coach Lucien Favre elected to throw on Anastasios Donis with 10 minutes left ahead of the regular No.9. Regardless of the absence of their ace, not to mention long-term knee injury victims Alassane Plea and Wylan Cyprien, Nice were still much the better side.
They dominated the first half and registered numerous scoring opportunities, outshooting their opponents 16-5 over the course of the match and enjoying nearly 70 per cent possession of the ball. Balotelli, though, had to watch much of the game from the sidelines and, when he did get on, twice managed unsuccessful shots on goal – not to mention a booking for dissent.
Not bad for three minutes on the park. Away from the field, meanwhile, he has been on his travels round Nice and visited a wall where an artwork of Hatem Ben Arfa – last season’s great hero at the Allianz Riviera – once stood proud. That, however, has long since been replaced by a portrait of the club’s new darling: Super Mario.
Smiling as he leaned against the image of himself, Balotelli posted:
“This is Nice. Thanks to the people of Nice.” While he has a good relationship with the citizens of the city that he has made his home for much of the last year, for Mario, family comes first.
He has again underlined that in an Instagram post with his brother, Enoch Barwuah, who plays in Italy for Ciliverghe in the lower reaches of the game. Both were looking slick in their waistcoats and shirts as Enoch took a selfie, which Mario tagged: “Best friends.”
Balotelli has also been reflecting back on his time at AC Milan, which he often does on his social media accounts.
This week, he has dropped in an old picture of himself with former Rossoneri team-mate Kevin-Prince Boateng. The men have their Ghanaian ancestry as a bond, but they also share a similar sense of humour if this post is anything to go by.
But it is not just Boateng who has been in Balotelli’s thoughts this week. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another former colleague of his, was struck down by a knee ligament injury playing for Manchester United against Anderlecht in the Europa League.
The Swedish veteran is set to miss the remainder of the season, and Mario took to social media to wish his former Inter strike partner well. “Come back asap my friend... I wish you a quick recovery,” he said.
Next Sunday, Nice face Paris Saint-Germain, Ibra’s former side, at the Allianz Riviera, where they are unbeaten in the league this season.
Balotelli will hope to have gotten over the fever that reduced him to just a couple of minutes last week, as he could fire his side to within three points of second place, which still remains a realistic target with only four weeks of the campaign to play. Now it is time for Mario to show just how Super he really is.