Saturday had the potential to be a turning point in the Ligue 1 title race. Nice travelled to Monaco for a first-against-second clash, but the outcome was not one that suited Mario Balotelli’s side.
Earlier in the season, Lucien Favre’s men crushed their near neighbours 4-0 at the Allianz Riviera, but they were given a taste of their own medicine in the principality, where the incredible backing of several thousand fans was not enough to help them avert a 3-0 defeat.
With Paris Saint-Germain overcoming Dijon later in the day, Nice tumbled to third in the standings, with the Italy international striker mute throughout.
Balotelli, who showed his high spirits before the game with an Instagram post, has yet to score a league goal away from home since arriving in France, and in truth he endured a frustrating match against Monaco.
He was peripheral to much of the game, left frustrated as his team-mates failed to find him when he was positioned well, and on the rare occasion he did get a sight of goal, he was wild with his shooting.
Nevertheless, he did find time to thank the hordes of fans who travelled along the Mediterranean coast to support their team in a noisy and colourful fashion. Life was brought to the often quiet Stade Louis II by the guests, and Balotelli was appreciative of their efforts.
“Thanks for the great support today,” he posted in the aftermath of the disappointing loss, which suddenly makes Nice’s title challenge look an even more outside bet. Before the match, controversial former France boss Raymond Domenech wrote some words of advice for harnessing Balotelli in his column in L’Equipe.
Domenech compared the Italian to Manchester United great Eric Cantona, who was deemed to be untameable in France. Sir Alex Ferguson brought the best out of the Frenchman, and there is a lesson to be learned from the Scot’s management.
“The recipe, in this specific case, is the response Alex Ferguson gave to the question: ‘How did you manage Cantona when he could no longer play in France?’
“’It’s simple,’ he replied. ‘Nothing. I managed the others and left him in peace to do what he wanted. They did not take offence because they were convinced it would help the team improve faster. And you saw the results.’
“So Mario, do as you like, what you want, when you want.”
He may not have laced his shooting boots up in time for the weekend, but Balotelli certainly still has them.
Earlier in the week, he took part in a remarkable stunt that saw him firing footballs into a goal hovering in the sky. “Talk about aiming high... Check what the latest challenge I had to go through,” he said, before joking: “Next time I want to shoot into a submarine.” If he was to be presented with that challenge, it would be one well worth watching.
There was little opportunity for down time over the course of the week, yet Balotelli gave his fans an insight into the type of movies he likes to watch to relax. “Old but good funny movie,” he posted alongside a clip of Haunted House 2.
Saturday’s loss in Monaco was certainly a bit of a horror show for the Italy international, but Nice have two opportunities to respond in the next week. They are at home to Saint-Etienne on Wednesday, then travel to Rennes on Sunday, where Balotelli will again try to registered on his travels for the first time.