Balotelli needs to deliver right now
Liverpool require far more from their ninth summer signing, to enhance their title claims and impose themselves on the Champions League
Mario Balotelli of Liverpool prior to the Barclays Premier League defeat to his former club Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
At least Brendan Rodgers did not try and sugar-coat it. “Trouble,” he replied, when asked before Liverpool’s defeat at Manchester City what Mario Balotelli would bring to a squad who had known only progress for the past 19 months. The Liverpool manager was half-joking. He needs the conversation to switch from the character to the footballer as swiftly as possible.
Tales of fireworks, darts and driving up to a sixth-form college to use its toilet have shaped Balotelli’s reputation to a greater extent than performances for Internazionale, Manchester City, Milan or Italy, his Euro 2012 semi-final devastation of Germany included. They are hardly heinous crimes but have helped cast the 24-year-old in a softer light than his occasionally casual approach to training ,instruction and his own potential perhaps deserve.
They also cloud the undeniable truth that, despite the fascination that manifested itself outside Liverpool’s Melwood training ground on Friday night, when Balotelli was mobbed by adoring supporters before he had sealed a €20 million move from Milan, the striker has only sporadically delivered.
Title claimsLiverpool require far more from their ninth summer signing, to enhance their Premier League title claims and impose themselves on this season’s Champions League.
Balotelli observed from the directors’ box at the Etihad Stadium as Daniel Sturridge cut an isolated figure until the second-half introduction of Lazar Markovic injected belated energy and menace into the Liverpool performance.
Menace is one of the attributes Liverpool’s attack have lost with Luis Suarez’s move to Barcelona and their manager hopes the competition between Balotelli and Sturridge will recreate it.
Balotelli was deployed on the left at times by Roberto Mancini at City but Rodgers’ track-record suggests he, Sturridge, and let’s not forget Rickie Lambert, will be asked to fit a variety of systems.
There were times at the Etihad, when Liverpool were inventive in the final third but lacked a physical presence able to bring Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho into more threatening positions, that the prospect of the Italy international replacing Sturridge as the focal point of the attack made perfect sense.
It is rare for the manager of a new signing, and the player’s agent, to admit the arrival is in the last chance saloon but that is how Balotelli’s move to Anfield has been described by Rodgers and Mino Raiola.
Exhaustive searchIt helped that Milan dropped their asking price by almost half while an exhaustive search for a new striker after the collapse of Loic Remy’s proposed transfer unearthed only Balotelli or Everton-bound Samuel Eto’o as the only gettable options.
“I looked at the talent and he is a wonderful talent,” said Rodgers when explained why his categorical denial that Balotelli would become a Liverpool player was not as categorical as he made out.
“We potentially will have the English number nine and the Italian number nine. Mario is at a stage in his career where this might be his last chance. He needs to settle down and show maturity but I have worked with loads of players like that. He has huge potential but he needs to come here and be consistent and if he can do that then we have one hell of a player.”
For all the positivity surrounding Balotelli, the striker will quickly discover that Anfield is no place to drop the head, throw a strop and then to expect sympathy.
His misdemeanour’s pale in comparison with the man he has replaced but Suarez’s insatiable appetite for work and to win could never be questioned.
At 24, Balotelli still has that to answer. – Guardian Service