Italy have won four World Cup tournaments. Their most recent came in 2006 as the team defeated France on penalties. Since winning the tournament over a decade ago, Italy’s national team has been on a decline. In 2010 and 2014, the Azzurri were eliminated at the group stage and spent much of the World Cup watching rather than playing. Italy fans were more likely to win cash at SlotsExpert than seeing their team qualify for the knockout stages.
The Azzurri are not in Russia after being eliminated from qualification in the UEFA playoffs by Sweden. After their failure to qualify, former Internazionale and Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was appointed coach of the national team. With his appointment came the return of the manager’s favourite striker: Mario Balotelli.
The long road back to Italy
Balotelli has spent much of the last two club seasons out of the limelight. The one-time headline grabbing striker has been playing for Nice in Ligue 1. Balotelli had few options following an awful season at Liverpool in 2014-15 and a loan to AC Milan the next season that did little to rejuvenate him.
Nice took a punt on the striker, and in doing so, gave him a much-needed break from the world he had grown up in. The Italian made his first team professional football debut at just 15. Playing for Lumezzane in Serie C1, Balotelli looked far older than he was. He was a physical specimen at an early age and he was able to bully defenders while being much younger.
Barcelona considered signing him, but in the end passed following a trial. Inter moved in and added Balotelli to the youth team. He debuted with the Italian giants at 17-years old and quickly became a fixture in Mancini’s team. But that would become the problem with Balotelli. Everything from then on was easy and his potential meant he was a part of the squad regardless of form.
On the pitch, every season got better for Balotelli at Inter in the goals department. Mancini, who joined Manchester City in 2009, encouraged the club to sign Balotelli. They did and he played well in his first two seasons. However, a public falling out with Mancini and Balotelli’s eradicate off-field behaviour ended his Manchester City career prematurely. A good season and a half back in Italy with AC Milan raised Liverpool’s interest. But that is where Balotelli began to fizzle and two seasons of poor play followed.
Back for the Azzurri
Balotelli’s recent re-call to the Azzurri was thanks to his play at Nice. It wasn’t just his on-field play that influenced Mancini to re-call him. Balotelli has behaved himself off the pitch, too. Balotelli is now 27, but there is plenty of time for him to make his mark once more on Italy. The skill and ability has never wavered, but Balotelli’s problems have always been mental. Those mental issues seem to be drying up.
The striker’s return to the Azzurri saw him score against Saudi Arabia in a friendly. It was his first international goal since the 2014 World Cup. Balotelli is the future of the Italian national team thanks to its lack of top-notch strikers and his immense potential. He has finally got his head right, and if he is selected by Mancini, Balotelli should light up the goal for the Azzurri.