Mario Balotelli is an enigma wrapped in a mystery- and that's putting it mildly!
There has been one question overshadowing Brendan Rodgers’ spending spree this summer following the £75 million sale of flawed genius Luis Suarez to Barcelona; how are Liverpool going to replace the seemingly irreplaceable Uruguayan?
The answer, up until a few days ago at least, appeared to be that the Reds had accepted the impossibility of replacing Suarez; his intoxicating yet infuriating blend of magic and madness simply cannot be replicated.
Instead, they decided to spend the money raised by his sale on building a squad deep enough to cope with Champions League football; quantity replaced quality, with Rodgers hoping that the sum of his eight new signings would be at least equal to the one and only Luis Suarez.
However, with deadline day looming and big name targets such as Monaco’s Falcao and PSG’s Cavani turning down the chance to join Sturridge and Lambert in Liverpool’s attack, Rodgers has gone back on his word and signed a talented player with destructive tendencies similar to Suarez, namely the notorious Mario Balotelli.
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It was only 20 days ago that Rodgers ruled out signing Super Mario. To quote the Northern Irishman verbatim: “I can categorically tell you Mario Balotelli will not be at Liverpool.” Now, just shy of three weeks later, a £16 million fee has been agreed with AC Milan, as have personal terms with the player, and all that remains for the deal to be wrapped up is the completion of Mario’s medical, which should be a formality.
The news has shocked the football world and divided Kopites. Many are excited about signing a world class talent at a bargain price, although most are at least a little reticent about his erratic and unpredictable behaviour. All are bound to be talking about the good, the bad and the ugly of Mario Balotelli throughout the season.
Balotelli is a world class talent with plenty of medals to prove it. From 2007-2010, he was an integral part of an Inter Milan team that won three Serie A titles, two domestic cups and the Champions League. Moreover, the last time he was in the Premier League at Manchester City, he helped them win the FA Cup and the title, providing the assist for Sergio Aguero’s famous last minute strike at home to QPR which won the Citizens the League in 2011/2012.
He also has a solid, if not spectacular, scoring record, netting 88 times in 222 career games, which averages out at just over a goal every three games. The biggest goal haul of his career came last season at AC Milan, where he scored 14 League goals in 25 starts.
Furthermore, Super Mario has a soft side off the pitch, which has endeared him to supporters. In Christmas 2011, Mario wandered into a pub in Manchester and put £1000 behind the bar. Clearly in the festive spirit, Balotelli also dressed up as Santa Claus and drove around giving out money to bemused Mancunians. Heart-warmingly, he also dealt with a young fan’s bully after he turned up to City’s training grounds asking for an autograph during school hours.
Mario is egotistical in the extreme, as humorously evidenced by the photo of a Panini sticker album filled with images of himself that he posted on Facebook at this summer’s World Cup. As a result, he tends to strop and kick up a fuss when he is not the team’s focal point, which sets him at odds with the emphasis on the team that Rodgers has instilled at Anfield.
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Often seen as lazy and inconsistent, Balotelli has a tendency to go missing in matches when he is simply too bored to take an interest in the game, which will infuriate Kopites who prize a good work ethic and expect nothing less than 100% every week from those wearing the famous Red shirt.
Moreover, his disciplinary record is poor, the 24-year old picking up a career high ten bookings for AC Milan last season. More importantly, he rarely has a good relationship with his managers, with his boss at Inter, Jose Mourinho, declaring him ‘unmanageable’ and Roberto Mancini saying that he felt like punching Balotelli at times.
Mario’s antics may be amusing, but they are often ugly as well. Ranging from the bizarre to the barbaric, Balotelli has made headlines on the front pages as much as the back pages during his career.
Training ground fights with teammates and managers, throwing darts at youth team players and setting off fireworks in his own bathroom are just some of the crazy things that happen on a regular basis in the weird and wonderful world of Mario Balotelli.
Weighing up the costs and benefits of bringing in Balotelli is difficult because, unlike his good aspects, his bad, and particularly ugly, side are unquantifiable. You can count how many goals he scores in a season, but it is much more difficult to put a number on the amount of goals that weren’t scored because his attitude lowered team morale or the amount of damage that was done to the club’s reputation due to his antics.
If no other alternative was available, Balotelli is a good signing at £16 million. Having Mad Mario to contend with is better than struggling along with just Sturridge and Lambert. However, there is a huge risk that he won’t fit into Rodgers’ set up, and he may well clash with rather than complement Sturridge, since both will be vying for the main striker’s role and Balotelli doesn’t like playing second fiddle to anyone.
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Moreover, however many financial incentives for good behaviour are included in his contract to try and mitigate his many misdemeanours; you simply cannot legislate for some of the crazy stuff that Balotelli gets up to.
Let’s hope this transfer works and he finally matures into the world class footballer he has the potential to be but, at the same time, not naively believe that this time he’ll be different. Unfortunately, the good, the bad and the ugly of Balotelli are seemingly inextricably linked. When you sign Super Mario, you sign him warts and all.