Mario Balotelli needed a new motivation and that is why he is thriving at Marseille after leaving Nice, according to his former coach Patrick Vieira.
Balotelli hit 33 Ligue 1 goals in his first two seasons at Nice but fell out with new boss Vieira amid fitness issues and his failure to score in 10 league appearances at the start of this term.
A January switch to Marseille has got Balotelli back on track, though, with the Italy international hitting four goals in six league starts for his new club.
Balotelli has rediscovered his mojo and celebrated his scissor-kick opening goal in last weekend’s 2-0 home win over Saint-Etienne by posting a live celebration video on Instagram.
And ahead of Balotelli facing Nice for the first time since leaving the club, Vieira indicated he will not be giving the striker any special attention in Sunday’s clash.
“We all have our opinion on Mario,” Vieira told reporters. “No matter what on Sunday he would be our opponent, such as Maxime Lopez or any other Marseille player. No more, no less.
“He is doing well for Marseille and that proves he needed another source of motivation and was looking for something else. Good for him.
“At the beginning Mario wanted to leave, it was his goal. After he changed his mind and we were very happy of that. Unfortunately it did not turn as we would have liked. We gave everything to work together well.
“But we did not succeed and he decided to leave, he is scoring goals for Marseille, it goes well for him, good for him.”
Balotelli has been booked twice in his past four appearances but Marseille boss Rudi Garcia defended the striker’s disciplinary record and hailed his maturity and intelligence.
“Look at the competition, Mario often gets yellow cards. We had the statistics,” Garcia said. “I thought at the time [before he joined] that it was often justified. Since he joined us, I realised that it is not.
“It is important to sanction him when he deserves it but not on his reputation. That’s what matters. He’s physically a colossus. He’s allowed to challenge the opponent legitimately. The defenders don’t mind chasing him and even sometimes provoke him both physically and verbally.
“He needs to keep calm but since he joined us I think that he’s doing it quite well. He deserved his yellow card in Dijon but against Rennes it was unjustified. When he doesn’t deserve a yellow card, do not give it to him. We do not sanction a player on his reputation.
“I find him calm, positive and clever – in and outside the pitch. Some players react better than others when they feel they’ve been wronged. He’s doing well in my opinion. I cannot compare to how he was before, but he surprises me. You see him daily with his team-mates.
“They’re on social media when they score goals. I will not give my opinion on it because I have none. I am from another era. He’s happy and nice to be around. I’ve seen his interviews and I am pleased with it. I am happy he gives some interviews it was not the case before.
“I discovered an intelligent man. Mario thinks and makes sense when he talks. He gives proper answer to some sensitive topics sometimes.”