Ligue 1 action returned this weekend, but Mario Balotelli was forced to watch on from the stands as the Italian served the last of a two-game ban that prevented him from featuring in the Coupe de France defeat against Lorient a week earlier.
Without the Italy international, Nice were held to a goalless draw against bottom side Metz, ultimately losing their status as Ligue 1 leaders to Monaco.
It proved a frustrating afternoon as the hosts, deprived also of Younes Belhanda and Jean-Michel Seri among others, failed to profit from a match they had been expected to win.
But it certainly has not been a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for Balotelli, who has comprehensively won the home support over already. Indeed, such has been his popularity, he is quite literally erasing all images of previous cult hero, Hatem Ben Arfa, from the city.
“Thanks for the mural,” the Italian told his fans on Instagram.
The wall previously featured an image of now Paris Saint-Germain playmaker Ben Arfa.
Suspension means that Balotelli’s thoughts have been allowed to wander elsewhere, and he took time to offer support to goalkeeper Mattia Perin, who had sustained a serious knee injury.
“Come back soon brother. I love you, I’m close by,” he said.
Equally, Balotelli also hinted towards what might be his dream attacking line-up on Instagram. Perhaps fuelled by Liverpool’s high-profile clash with Manchester United on Sunday, which ended 1-1 at Old Trafford, Mario found an old photo of him with two legendary Premier League strikers.
“Imagine this attack,” he told his followers beside a picture of him flanked on one side by Arsenal great Thierry Henry (in Liverpool training gear) and on the other by Chelsea hero Didier Drogba.
Equally, he has been able to take some time out for family, spending time in the park with his daughter, Pia.
But come next weekend, Balotelli is expected back in action for the first time in 2017. On Friday night, Nice will attempt to reclaim top spot in Ligue 1 when they visit Bastia’s Furiani home on Corsica – a notoriously difficult place for travelling sides to earn points.
With a strong Italian influence on the Ile de Beaute, the striker should feel at home, and he will want to be among the goals.