Is Balotelli Worth the Risk for Liverpool?

“Balotelli is unmanageable” Jose Mourinho

Mario Balotelli is one of the great enigmas of world football. At only 24 the Italian possesses some of the qualities and talents that could make him of the world’s best strikers, but his behaviour on and off the pitch has often threatened to ruin his career.

After selling one controversial figure in Luis Suarez, Liverpool are in the process of buying another. Club officials from Liverpool and from Balotelli’s current club AC Milan have met to discuss a £16 million move to Anfield.

Liverpool are desperate to replace Suarez with another striker to accompany Daniel Sturridge but have failed in their attempts to sign Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao. Balotelli is now the man targeted to help Liverpool score enough goals to secure Champions League football again for next season but is the controversial striker worth the risk?

Balotelli, who has previously played with Inter Milan, Manchester City and AC Milan, has arguably failed to deliver with every club he has played for.

Before transferring to City in August 2010, Balotelli was proclaimed as the future of Inter Milan when he became the club’s youngest ever Champions League goal scorer at 17. However, a number of high profile disagreements with senior players such as Javier Zanetti and the manager Jose Mourinho as well as angering the fans when he was pictured wearing an AC Milan shirt after a string of poor performances led to the strikers departure.

While playing in England, Balotelli gained a cult following and a lot of media publicity for his off field antics, such as setting off fireworks in his house and giving away thousands of pounds to the public, which often drew attention away from his performances.

He scored 30 goals in 80 appearances for City and starting the FA cup final, in which City won their first trophy for 35 years, and winning the Premier League a year later were the highlights of his two and a half year stay at the Etihad.

Ill discipline marred his time in England however. He was sent off 3 times in the league, a red card every 18 matches, and was also sent off in a Europa League second leg tie in which City lost and were knocked out of the competition.

His manager, Roberto Mancini, seemed to have lost all patience with his striker when he was sent off in City’s 1-0 defeat to Arsenal which nearly cost his side the league title.

“I’ve finished my words for him. I’ve finished. I love him as a guy, as a player. I know him. He’s not a bad guy and [he] is a fantastic player. But, at this moment, I’m very sorry for him because he continues to lose his talent, his quality. I hope, for him, he can understand that he’s in a bad way for his future. And he can change his behaviour in the future. But I’m finished.” Mancini speaking after Balotelli’s red card.

The pair had clearly fallen out and Balotelli only made 10 more league appearances for City. The final straw was the infamous training ground bust up between player and manager, when the two had to be separated.

Balotelli was sold to AC Milan only weeks later for £19 million, £5 million less than what City paid for him. The Italian was given a hero’s welcome, he was an AC fan, and many hoped that after his impressive performances at Euro 2012 he would focus on his football and realise his potential.

AC Milan was certainly the best place for him and with AC lying in 5th place and 6 points off the Champions League when he arrived, Balotelli scored 12 goals in 13 appearances as AC clinched 3rd place and Champions League football on the final day of the season.

But, as it so often is with Balotelli, his second season at the San Siro, in which he scored 14 goals in 30 games was marred by clashes with fans and off the field antics. Milan fans were protesting at the team’s poor performances and position of mid table in Serie A. The fans were then angered by pictures of Balotelli out at nightclubs during the team’s awful run of form.

And now, after almost 18 months with the club that for Balotelli seemed to be the ‘perfect fit’, he is seemingly on the move to Anfield. Brendan Rodgers obviously believes that the Italian is worth the risk, and is dismissing Balotelli’s previous controversies.

On his day, he is a complete forward and proved this during Euro 2012 when he scored destroyed Germany by scoring two goals. Whilst naturally gifted with strength, speed and agility, Balotelli is also a technical and skilful  player. He can score a variety of goals from headers to powerful strikes and cute finishes to free kicks. He also has an excellent penalty record and scored every penalty he ever took for Manchester City.

At 24 Balotelli also still has to time to develop and improve and considering his potential, the £16 million transfer fee seems to be a bargain for Liverpool. Sunderland are still in talks to sign Fabio Borini for £14 million whilst Southampton recently paid £12 million for striker Shane Long, which puts the fee in perspective, and in the current market of inflated transfers, the fee must be one of the deciding factors in the deal.

Liverpool also need another striker. Rickie Lambert was a shrewd signing with Premier League experience for only £4 million, but can’t be expected to lead the line and play in the Champions League whilst Divock Origi has returned to Lille on a season long loan, which only leaves Daniel Sturridge as Liverpool’s first team striker.

Last season, Liverpool were often at their best when they used two strikers in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, signing Balotelli would enable Rodgers to play that way in the Champions League and throughout the season. Otherwise, Balotelli could lead the line on his one if or when an often injury prone Sturridge is unavailable, or Sturridge could play out wide with Balotelli playing centrally.

When the unpredictable striker is not in form however, Balotelli can be lazy, lethargic and can appear uninterested. During his time at Anfield, Liverpool were used to Luis Suarez giving 100% every game, and Balotelli must also work hard to be accepted by the  fans.

Rodgers will also expect Balotelli to be a team player. Defending from the front and high intensity pressing are tactics that Rodgers has used since his Swansea days but the tactic only works if the whole team works together.

Overall, Balotelli is a huge gamble for Liverpool but it is a gamble that Rodgers believes is worth the risk due to the striker’s talent, his potential and his transfer fee.

Liverpool are also handing Balotelli an opportunity which he must take. After leaving his last three clubs in a spectacular and sudden fashion, Balotelli has one more chance to live up to expectations, and to behave himself off the pitch.

But Brendan Rodgers is an excellent man manager and has the ability to improve his players as he has done with Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, who, after failing to establish himself with either Chelsea or Manchester City,  was effectively on his last chance to perform for a big club when he moved to Liverpool in January 2013. Sturridge has since established himself as one of league’s top goal scorers and recently marked his 50th Liverpool appearances with his 36th goal and can be seen as an example that Balotelli must follow to succeed at Anfield.

Brendan Rodgers speaking in August 2014:

“Balotelli is a big talent, I saw that in this time at Inter Milan as a young player and obviously going to Manchester City when we had a real close eye on him there. He’s got all the qualities. He’s 6ft 3ins, he’s quick, his touch is terrific and he can score goals. He went back to Italy to play and he’s still so young. If his focus is right, his concentration is right and he leads the lifestyle of a top player then he can play for any team in the world.”

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