Since Gian Piero Ventura failed to get Italy to Russia this summer, and was subsequently sacked following the November defeat to Sweden, plenty of speculation surrounded who would take the post moving forward.
Antonio Conte’s name was tossed around for a possible return after an inspiring performance during the 2016 UEFA European Championships, as well as the former Premier League title winner Claudio Ranieri who most recently spent time in France managing Nantes; Azzurrini skipper Luigi Di Biagio appeared like a real possibility for the role as well once he took over on an interim basis in March for the friendlies with Argentina and England which rendered less than positive results.
Finally, the search came to an end on Monday as it was former Manchester City and Inter Coach Roberto Mancini who was appointed to fill the vacant Italy CT position.
Mancini, who recently left Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia after just one season, now steps in as the man tasked with getting the Italian National Team back on track.
The 53-year old’s hiring has been met with mixed opinions, with many torn between whether he can get the most out of this current era of talent, or will he be another failed experiment in a repeat of Ventura-like mistakes. As of right now, it is far too early to project who from Ventura’s failed group will be given an azzurro shirt under Mancini, and who will be frozen out in an effort to foster in a new era that requires breathing in a winning mentality back into the National Team. But, one thing we do know is that with Mancini now at the helm, it means that 27-year old hitman Mario Balotelli finally has his easiest road paved back into the Azzurri.
The once-troubled striker last appeared for Italy during the abysmal 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil where the Italians crashed out with a second consecutive group stage exit. Although Balotelli headed home the decisive goal in a 2-1 win against England in the very first match, he – and many others – disappeared in the following fixtures against Costa Rica and Uruguay.
Following Cesare Prandelli’s departure, Balotelli was handed just one call-up in November 2014 under Conte, however did not feature due to injury. Off a disappointing loan spell back with Milan after struggling mightily to catch fire in England with Liverpool, the ex-Nerazzurri prodigy did not make Conte’s 2016 Euro roster as the Italian tactician opted for safer forwards of a very specific profile to fit the scheme in Eder and Graziano Pelle.
Ever since being ousted from the National Team, Balotelli has re-established himself as a person most importantly, becoming the father of his second child last September, while controlling his temperament with maturity and improved character in his profession.
When you package this all together, you have a reborn star becoming the catalyst on the pitch we all knew he was capable of being.
Since he stepped foot in France with OGC Nice two summers ago on a free transfer, Balotelli has seemingly put it all together under in-demand Swiss manager Lucien Favre in the prime of his career; non-self-destructive and a killer mentality in front of goal. In two seasons with Nice, Balotelli flexed his goalscoring muscle, bagging 43 goals in 65 total matches for the Ligue 1 outfit.
Yet, with Balotelli’s contract expiring, and a desire to seek new challenges around Europe after this uprising, super-agent Mino Raiola has already begun pitching his client to top clubs in Italy, including Roma and Napoli.
While we await Mario’s next destination, there is no hold-up in making a dream return to the National Team after nearly four years away – especially with Mancini now in the mix.
Balotelli served two separate spells under Mancini at Inter and Manchester City, each filled with there share of ups and downs. But the former Sampdoria forward always came to his support despite his sporadic personality.
“The problem is because of his age, he can make some mistakes,” explained Mancini back in 2010. “He’s Mario. He’s crazy – but I love him because he’s a good guy.”
Mancini has not shied away either from expressing his interest in granting Balotelli his re-call for the upcoming matches with Saudi Arabia, France and Netherland, revealing in his debut presser today at Coverciano that “with Balotelli, we will speak and I’ll probably call him.
“We would all like to see him back like he was at the European Championships with Prandelli.”
There is no denying that Balotelli, despite his prolonged absence from the NT, is still worthy of a second chance based on his track record. In 33 caps for ‘La Nazionale’, the polarising talent has scored 13 times, two more than Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti combined and with 14 less appearances to his name.
Roughly six years on since Balotelli’s assist to Sergio Aguero clinched the 2011-12 Premier League title for Manchester City, the re-packaged Italian has cleaned up his image, is ready for the blue shirt of the Azzurri once again, and will look forge a successful alliance with a familiar face to bring Italy back to prominence.