No one produces the exquisite one minute and the petulant the next quite like Mario Balotelli. Try as he might, even Luis Suarez can’t match the Italian’s contrasting moods and whims. Balotelli frustrates and impresses in equal measure and has mastered the art of maintaining such extremes.
It comes as a bit of a surprise then that Brendan Rodgers has chosen to sign the 24 year-old who left Manchester City just two years ago on the back of several training ground bust-ups, on-field antics and various other misdemeanors.
It’s almost as if winning Liverpool a maiden Premier League title just isn’t a big enough challenge for Rodgers; he’s opted to try and tame arguably the least manageable player around. It’s a risk no doubt, but admittedly, it’s one well worth taking for Liverpool at this moment in time.
The progress of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho coupled with new signings and Daniel Sturridge’s form has served to fill the void left by Suarez’s departure to a certain extent. However, their attack still lacked that x-factor which the Uruguayan provided and Balotelli’s inclusion could help in that regard.
The Italian has all the raw materials to be a truly exceptional player. He is far from fulfilling his potential but in a crunch game, he’s still the most likely to produce something audacious, perhaps enough to win the encounter.
With his physicality, pace and technique, he’s a handful for center backs. The big concern is whether or not he can be trusted and relied upon. Well the good news for Liverpool is that he doesn’t have to be. They already have Sturridge firing on all cylinders and Rickie Lambert in reserve. They don’t want to be pinning their hopes on Balotelli and the positive is that they won’t have to.
At just £16 million, the striker could turn out to be the bargain of the summer. Gus Poyet has made no secret of his desire to sign Fabio Borini for Sunderland on a permanent deal. A £14 million fee has reportedly been agreed between the two clubs. Should that deal go through, Liverpool could be upgrading from Borini to Balotelli for the miserly sum of £2 million.
To sign a striker of Balotelli’s ability in the current transfer market, you’d have to shell out a minimum of £40 million. In that regard, to recruit such a talent in his mid-twenties for anything less than £20 million is an absolute steal, especially when you consider that Shane Long moved from Hull City to Southampton for £12 million this summer.
Balotelli will know that he needs to make this opportunity count. At Liverpool, he’ll step out in front of a superb Anfield crowd who’ll chant his name incessantly and feed his ego. He thrives on the big stage and basks in adoration; the Kop will grant him with both.
He’ll be playing under a manager who believes in him and in a team that’s already well-oiled and thriving. Liverpool don’t need Balotelli to replace Suarez or be their saviour. They’re a formidable unit as it is and only need him to add a little spark and panache to their attack. That should suit the Italian perfectly.
The bottom line is that Balotelli will have to deliver, more for himself than for Liverpool; a reality he’s probably more inclined to respond to. Four years ago, Manchester City signed him for £22.5 million and sold him to AC Milan for £19 million two years later. The fact that his price has dropped a further £3 million since speaks volumes of his failure to progress and develop as a player.
If he doesn’t perform this time, Liverpool are hardly going to crumble on his account but he’ll certainly have a tough time moving to another club of similar stature. He can no longer get away with mere flashes of brilliance and have his age listed as a viable excuse. It’s time he came good and perhaps the knowledge of that will spur him on to do just that.
As far as his disciplinary issues are concerned, maybe his eccentricities can be curtailed to an extent but at the end of the day, a leopard doesn’t change its spots. Balotelli is bound to make the back pages again but Rodgers would do well to ensure he makes his share of headlines for the right reasons as well.
There’s every chance that he could disrupt the team. He’s not the hardest worker and Liverpool fans may not take kindly to that either. There are plenty of risks involved in taking him aboard a ship which seems to be in perfect harmony at present.
It will be a challenge to extract the best out of him but if successful, he may be the nudge Liverpool need to seriously challenge for honours this season, as long as someone is on hand to help him with his training bib of course.
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