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Why does no one want Super Mario? Balotelli's career at risk as he struggles to find new club

12:00 BST 14/08/2019
Mario Balotelli Marseille
The former Manchester City striker was in fine form for Marseille last season, but was it such a surprise that they let him go?

When Mario Balotelli left Marseille in May, it seemed like only a matter of time until he would be back.

"Thank you everybody for these amazing five months even if we didn’t achieve our objectives,"  the striker wrote on Instagram .

"I really want to say thank you to the coach and staff, players, president and directors. Everyone that works with Marseille, supporters – Thank you and hopefully see you soon or good luck for everything in the future years."

After no goals in 10 appearances with Nice in the first half of the season, the striker scored eight in 15 games with Marseille, having joined them following the termination of his contract on the French Riviera in January.

His form impressed the club president, Jacques-Henri Eyraud, too, giving fans hope that ‘Super Mario’ would be back at the Stade Velodrome again this season.

"It's true that I believed [in him] from the beginning," Eyraud said .

"Even [Marseille owner] Frank McCourt is someone who really believed in his type of profile at this time of the season, although we would have liked to see him come sooner.

"We are happy to see his performance, the way he was accepted into the group and the way he became integrated by his actions, his attitude, his behaviour on the pitch."

But after Rudi Garcia stepped down at the end of the 2018-19 season, a Balotelli return doesn’t appear to be in new boss Andre Villas-Boas ’ plans, and now the striker could even be set to move to Brazilian club Flamengo .

If completed, it’s a move that almost certainly brings the striker’s time at the top level to an end, just months after Marseille gave him a lifeline following his very public falling out with Patrick Vieira at Nice .

"I want to answer back, or just slam him up against the wall or leave him hanging by his collar on the coat rack," the former Arsenal midfielder said.

Indeed, just weeks before his release, Vieira would reveal that Balotelli turned up late and overweight for pre-season training last summer .

But Balotelli repaid Marseille's faith with plenty of goals and entertainment – his eccentric Instagram celebration after scoring a bicycle kick perfectly encapsulating a fascinating footballer.

He was saying all the right things, too.

"I've told my agent that I am happy here and want to stay,” the Italian said in March .

"My first two seasons at Nice were good, but Marseille is on another level, another type of football and atmosphere.

"As far as I'm concerned, Marseille are the biggest club in France. I thank Nice and its supporters, but there's no comparison with Marseille.

"I've always felt that I would fit in here and I can't explain why." 

With an Italy recall also being teased by Roberto Mancini , the move to Marseille was working out for both parties. It was a relationship expected to continue, but it has not materialised. 

Some believe that Villas-Boas simply didn’t want Balotelli in his team, with the coach telling the press that a "radical" philosophy will be imposed in order to get Marseille "back to their best level".

Other reports, however, say that demands of a €4m annual salary put the French club off.

The striker was born in Palermo but grew up in Brescia - where he has admitted he would like to end his career  - and he has been heavily linked to the latter this summer, as well as a host of other Italian clubs, including Fiorentina and Verona.

But now, along with Brescia, Flamengo have emerged as front-runners for his signature in what would be a significant step down for a player who is still just 29 years old.

Having hit the headlines for the wrong reasons as recently as last month though -  paying a man €2000 to drive a scooter into the sea  - perhaps the potential step down comes later than expected for a player whose reckless reputation has overshadowed his undeniable talent for many years.

Didier Drogba revealed that he had given Balotelli a pep talk before his Marseille move, saying : "I told him: ‘You have this opportunity, so take it, because it’s a club that will be good for you.’ And now Mario is really doing well. He’s started scoring again and I am happy."

Another motivational word from the Chelsea legend would be welcomed by many, as it would be a massive shame to see a player of Balotelli’s talent leave the highest level behind so soon.