The new Mario Balotelli: humbled

The 2014 World Cup seems like ages ago, but that's the last time we saw Mario Balotelli in an Italy uniform.

We could soon see Super Mario back in an Azzurri uniform again if he keeps up what has been a stunning comeback.

He was written off at the age of 26 after back-to-back horrible seasons, scoring one league goal each for Liverpool and AC Milan, which dumped him on transfer deadline day, sending him to French club Nice.

But he has resurrected his career in France, scoring six goals in five games and helping Nice, which hasn't won French championship since 1959, take the lead in Ligue 1, where it plays Lyon in a key match on Friday.

“You have to be blind not to see how good he is in front of goal.” says Nice coach Lucien Favre.

As Amy Lawrence of the Guardian notes, Balotelli has doing it all, scoring spectacular and simple goals.

Balotelli is still the showman, celebrating on  goals like never before, and controversy is always close by. In his last match, he was sent off for appearing to butt heads with a Lorient player, but replays showed there was no contact and the red card was rescinded, allowing him to play against Lyon.

In a French league devoid of stars, Balotelli is a big hit. Even Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas supported the Italian in his red-card appeal.

We're seeing a very different Balotelli: humbled. After being omitted for Italy's World Cup qualifiers against Spain and Albania despite his great start, he didn't sound off.

"I've missed it for some time, but it's been deserved," Balotelli told Sky Sport Italia. "I hope to return in blue very soon, but only at my best. To me, it's better to have skipped this match. I want to be at my best for the upcoming games."

Still, it will be hard for Balotelli to live down his bad-boy reputation. New Italy coach Giampiero Ventura doesn't seem to be convinced.

"He has a lot of quality," he said, "but needs to prove he can play for the team and make the difference within a squad dynamic.”

For now, Ventura can do without Balotelli as the Azzurri have tied Spain, 1-1, and scored three goals in each of their wins on the road in World Cup 2018 qualifying.

But it will be hard to keep Super Mario out of the Italy lineup for long.
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