The appointment of Roberto Mancini as the new coach of the Italian national team should be great news for admirers of Nice striker Mario Balotelli.
Since the 2014 World Cup, the enigmatic forward has not played for Italy, but in his first squad, Mancini has elected to bring Balotelli back into the fold, with the Italy vs Saudi Arabia betting odds having the Azzurri at heavy favourites at 1/4 on. The 53-year-old made no secret in his first press conference of his plans to speak to the charismatic attacker about a return to international football and he subsequently gave the player a call-up.
It was Mancini that gave Balotelli his Serie A debut as a 17-year-old in the 2007-08 season. Although he played one minute on his debut against Cagliari, the mercurial striker caught the attention of the public when he scored three goals and provided just as many assists in the last seven matches of the campaign.
After scoring 28 goals in 86 competitive matches for the Nerazzurri and winning five domestic trophies with them, he joined Manchester City in the summer of 2010 for a reported figure of €28 million and he was reunited with his former coach at the Biscione, who had already been the manager of the Citizens since December 2009.
With the Mancunian club, he won three domestic trophies including the 2011 FA Cup and the 2011-12 English Premier League title. The Italian starlet was voted Man of the Match in that FA Cup Final, and he provided the assist for the winning goal scored by Sergio Aguero in the 3-2 victory against Queens Park Rangers, which sealed their first English league title since 1967-68.
Balotelli then starred at Euro 2012, finishing as leading goalscorer alongside five other players with three goals, and it was his brace against Germany which took Italy to the final before losing 4-0 to Spain.
His club form declined after the Euros and his relationship with Mancini seemed to be deteriorating from the outside looking in. AC Milan acquired him in January 2013 but both Mancio and the striker left on good terms.
“I spoke with Roberto before I went to speak to the players,” Balotelli told The Guardian at the time. “We spoke for some time about lots of things. He was sad, and I was too. But it was a good conversation.
“I love Roberto, he has been very important for my career, and I will always thank him for having trust and faith in me.”
Balotelli scored 12 times in just 13 Serie A matches for the Rossoneri but he could not replicate that scoring rate in the following season.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli took him to the 2014 World Cup and the enigmatic forward scored the winner in the Azzurri’s 2-1 victory against England. Not only was that the last time the Italians won a World Cup match, the goal from the Milan striker remains the last one Italy has scored at the tournament.
He behaved erratically and was replaced at half-time when the Azzurri lost 1-0 to Uruguay, which remains his last cap, and his tally with Italy remains at 13 goals in 33 internationals.
After some disappointing spells at Liverpool and again at Milan, Balo joined French club Nice for the 2016-17 season and he rediscovered his form by finding the back of the net 17 times in 28 competitive games and he has maintained that form so far this season by scoring 26 times in 37 matches.
It seems that Balotelli is no longer the temperamental player that he was in the early years of his career and his behaviour on and off the field has improve since he joined Nice but former Italy coach Giampiero Ventura refused to select him despite a lack of prolific scorers in the national team.
After the Italians failed to qualify for the World Cup since 1958, Ventura was sacked and interim coach Luigi Di Biagio ignored him too. Mancini has already refused to do that and he knows the forward better than most other coaches in world football. If coach is likely to bring the best out of the 27-year-old, it is him.
If Italy fans crave the mercurial talent and unpredictability of Mario Balotelli, then Roberto Mancini becoming the Azzurri coach should be music to their ears.