Although many have applauded Liverpool for their excellent business in signing Mario Balotelli, Tyrrell Meertins gives his (negative) opinion* on Super Mario and the transfer.
*Note: this is the opinion of the writer, he is entitled to one.
It’s been told that learning from your mistakes is one of the key factors associated with growth. Make a mistake, assess the situation, and discover methods to improve on your deficiencies.
Those who fail to decipher this logical formula tend to fail and are often scrutinized. Liverpool, though, have been lauded for their move to acquire Italian striker Mario Balotelli.
With the transfer window reaching its conclusion, the Reds required a third striker to compete in four competitions. The constant links with Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao were irrational, as were the hopes of replacing Luis Suarez. And with Fabio Borini possibly heading to Sunderland, Brendan Rodgers had to react quickly.
Still, no one could have predicted Balotelli’s return to England – mainly due to the fact that Rodgers publicly denied interest in a potential move for the Italian. Yet three weeks later, Anfield looks destined to welcome world football’s most polarizing figure.
Over the past decade, the Reds have been built around promising strikers lured from foreign leagues. The likes of Fernando Torres and Suarez joined Liverpool at the same period of their career, but unlike the duo, Balotelli’s buzz doesn’t reflect his prolific goal-scoring rate.
From wild haircuts, to childish antics on social media, to being mentioned in a Drake song, Balotelli is undoubtedly a world phenomenon. However, while agent Mino Raiola stated that several clubs were vying for the Italian’s services, the likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and even Arsenal supposedly passed on the opportunity.
Their reluctance to give Balotelli a chance is no coincidence. Not only has Balotelli failed to live up to his projected hype, one can argue that the 24-year-old has regressed. Frankly, the night in Warsaw against Germany, along with last year’s breakout European performance against PSV is a rarity.
Inconsistent performances have hindered Balotelli’s development over the past decade, as the Italian has never thrived over an extended period at the club level. Despite claiming silverware at Inter Milan – Balotelli, in fairness, played a lesser role with the Nerazzuri – fallouts with Jose Mourinho and failure to respond to public pleas from his teammates led to a move to England.
The Etihad provided Balotelli another opportunity to prove his worth, but his petulance led to physical tussles with Roberto Mancini – a man who referred to Balotelli as one of his children – and four sending offs during his three-year spell, including an intentional stamp on Scott Parker’s head. The famous pass to Sergio Aguero to win the Premier League will sit in the hearts of City fans forever, but Balotelli developed into a liability that only cooperated when he was fielded as the main striker.
18 months at Milan, Balotelli’s boyhood club, was the least memorable (in terms of club success), despite dragging the side into a Champions League spot, where he enjoyed arguably his best spell of his career.
The verdict was out on the Italian.
Balotelli consistently drifted out of games, while creating havoc within the dressing room. The Italian’s baggage wasn’t worth the odd moment of brilliance. Never has Balotelli scored more than 20 goals in a season, nor was he trusted to be the main man at the club, apart from his time at Milan, where his teammates lacked creativity, and were light-years below his level.
Nearly a decade into his professional career, Balotelli can only look back at his time with the Azzurri, where he played with world-class midfielders in a system that enabled him to operate in his best position, just behind the striker. But even then, the Italian striker couldn’t refrain from disputing with Cesare Prandelli.
There’s no surprise that Filippo Inzaghi didn’t hesitate when Liverpool inquired for his services, as the Milan manager prefers a conventional No.9 in his system, a role Balotelli fails to thrive in. Rodgers, on the other hand, jumped at the opportunity, and while many will classify the £16m fee as good business, Balotelli’s history and form over the past five years merits the staggeringly low valuation.
It appeared that Liverpool ridded their seismic off-the-field issues following Suarez’s departure, but Balotelli’s transfer proposes a new challenge for Rodgers.
The Italian is not a world-class striker, nor does he possess the tireless work-rate, win-or-die attitude, or the Uruguayan’s tantalizing all-round attacking threat. Suarez was capable of alleviating focus on his misdemeanours with his exceptional scoring-rate, tallying 31 league goals last season.
Balotelli may not be a racist, nor will he bite an opponent, but he poses a big threat in affecting the side’s togetherness. Suarez’s determination to be the best and win trophies could never be questioned, but as Liverpool enters a new phase under Rodgers, the Italian’s domino effect presence could lead to declination.
Where Suarez was arguably hitting the levels of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the banter regarding Balotelli’s potential to develop into a world-class player halted. Where Suarez was the fancy restaurant with the great food, Balotelli is the ordinary burger shack that occasionally offers worthwhile deals.
In terms of talent, work ethic, and player conduct, Balotelli is a downgrade from the Uruguayan. Once projected to be the best player in the world, the Italian let his ego, immaturity and poor mannerism jeopardize a promising career, despite countless aid from some of the best managers in the game.
Equally, Balotelli’s move poses several tactical dilemmas for the Liverpool manager. Rodgers, a man fixated on the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, was forced to constantly tinker with his side’s formation, to maintain balance when playing both Suarez and Daniel Sturridge as a strike partnership. Balotelli’s non-existent tactical discipline should keep him away from the flanks, and fielding the Italian as the sole striker, would not only see Rodgers follow in the footsteps of Balotelli’s former managers, but also leave Sturridge on the bench.
Fitting Liverpool’s various attacking options in a starting 11 would cause any manager a headache, and while the Champions League ensures Rodgers rotates, will Sturridge or Balotelli settle as second fiddle?
At 24, this could be it for Balotelli at the highest level.
The Italian’s public appeal will always see teams awaiting his signature, but further regression will deem the 24-year-old as the player who let it all slip away. Perhaps Rodgers can do the impossible and ignite Balotelli into the imperious attacker that he was predicted to be; and if Liverpool can maintain a top four spot, or potentially challenge for the title, the move will be a success.
If Balotelli adds consistency to his game, perhaps the 24-year-old’s brute strength, ability to turn on either foot with his back to goal, and his rare moment of brilliance, could ignite a title challenge. Nevertheless, the risk outweighs the reward, but with both sides benefitting from the transfer, the Italian would be the real loser if he fails to deliver.
Only Balotelli can determine where he stands amongst the greatest players in the world. But his time is surely ticking away.
Written by Tyrrell Meertins
Give a read to all articles in our Shankly’s Men Liverpool blog. What are your thoughts on Mario Balotelli? Let us know below.