Time to shine
As Mario Balotelli looks set to finalise a move to Liverpool, Sam Drury argues that in his second spell in England the focus should be on his performances on the pitch rather than his antics away from football...
By Sam Drury - Follow on Twitter
Last Updated: 22/08/14 11:47am
It started out as a rumour, quickly quashed and dismissed by most as nothing more than unfounded newspaper tittle-tattle.
However, less than three weeks later the rumour resurfaced and little more than 24 hours after the murmurings began, Mario Balotelli appears to be on the verge of joining Liverpool.
The controversial striker has been away from the Premier League for 18 months since the breakdown of his relationship with Roberto Mancini saw him leave Manchester City for his boyhood club, AC Milan.
But with a reported £16m fee agreed, a shock return to England’s top flight looks to be a formality at this stage.
His off-field antics may have been what created the headlines during his last stint in the Premier League, but his performances on it are all that Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool should be concerning themselves with.
That would seem to be the case and even the purported ‘behaviour’ clauses set to be inserted into the Italian’s contract look focused on footballing matters rather than what he chooses to get up to away from the club.
However, while Balotelli has had his problems on the pitch, arguably too much has been made of them and as a result his obvious talent is far too often overlooked.
The 24-year-old made his debut at Inter aged just 17, scoring twice on his full debut just a few days later. He was considered a very special talent, a player with all the attributes to make him one of the world’s top strikers in years to come.
Yet, in the seven years since, Balotelli has shown numerous glimpses of the talent he possesses but other than half a season when he first joined Milan, has struggled to find the consistency to go with it.
Spats with various managers, an at times questionable attitude and a poor disciplinary record have all played a part in that and all three are issues that Liverpool will have considered before making a move for the forward.
Indeed, despite people being keen to look at the Balotelli as being a like-for-like replacement for the departed Luis Suarez at Anfield, one bad boy succeeds another, the Uruguayan’s commitment on the pitch could never be questioned and, believe it or not, he never received a red card for the club.
On the other hand, Balotelli has been seen to coast through games, barely looking interested, and picked up four red cards in his two-and- a-half years with Manchester City.
The accepted wisdom is that the striker can be unstoppable, but only when the mood takes him. That may be slightly harsh on Balotelli but even he would have to accept that he hasn’t given the clichéd 110% effort in every game he’s played.
The fact remains though, that Balotelli can be unstoppable. He scored 12 in his first 13 league games for Milan and his 26 Serie A goals since joining in January 2013 are more than any other player has managed in that time.
He has the pace and power to frighten the best defenders, he can finish, is useful in the air and scores a wide range of different types of goals. He has also proven himself capable of performing on the big occasion; his displays for Italy at Euro 2012 were the perfect example of that.
His temperament can be questioned, but his talent cannot. For the £16m fee, Liverpool will no doubt feel that they could have a potential bargain on their hands, if they can coax the best out of him.
He will be the first to admit when he was younger he made some mistakes - but he is not that player anymore
Andrea Pirlo on Balotelli
The feeling has always been that at some point a team was going to get Balotelli at the right time, free of his previous on-pitch petulance and ready to focus on his football, and whoever did so would have a star on their hands. Think Manchester United and Eric.
It remains to be seen if that club will be Liverpool but recent comments from his international team-mate Andrea Pirlo will have encouraged those Liverpool supporters still unsure on Balotelli.
“Mario has matured since he has been back in Italy. He will be the first to admit when he was younger he made some mistakes - but he is not that player anymore,” he said.
“Anybody who still talks about him in that way is living in the past. He needs to be given space. The media do not need to write a story every time he goes to the shops - the time has come to write only about what he does on the field.”
If the move is confirmed then Rodgers and Liverpool will hope there is little need for the papers to write about anything else. His skill alone should ensure that his performances on the pitch keep journalists more than happy, without the need to look for stories further afield.