On August 3rd 2014 Brendan Rodgers said:
“I can categorically tell you that he wonʼt be at Liverpool.”
On August 26th 2014, Mario Balotelli signs for Liverpool Football Club. Itʼs good to know Brendan Rodgers is a man of his word.
Balotelli to Liverpool was a transfer deal from way out of left-field if ever there was one. I didnʼt believe it at first. I flicked through the internet news sites looking for someone to tell me it was a hoax. Of all the strikers Liverpool were linked with during the summer transfer window, Balotelli was the last one I wouldʼve expected, or wanted.
I assume it was the transfer window equivalent of taking a drunken wander on the dancefloor at 3 in the morning. After being knocked back by the fickle hotties populating the place you spy the hobgoblin who sideswiped you at the bar earlier on. At the time you dismissed her but under the blinding light of a disco ball with the deadline fast approaching she suddenly appears like the answer to all your problems. Substitute ʻhobgoblinʼ with ʻBalotelliʼ and Iʼm pretty sure youʼre inside the mind of Brendan Rodgers on deadline day.
Balotelli is a player who wears his heart on his sleeve and his IQ on the back of his jersey. There are some crazy stories about his antics over the years both on and off the field. Half of them are probably made up but that means that half of them have an element of truth to them.
The on field stuff is fairly well documented. Mario has had many a training ground scuffle with team-mates and managers. The photo of Mancini, with the face of a man driven to the edge, trying to wrestle him to the ground during a training session at Man City, captures the mood perfectly. It seems that frustration and bewildering disbelief are the most common feelings left behind by Mario Balotelli in the minds of his fellow professionals.
The off field stuff is more entertaining and gives a much better insight into the character of Mario Balotelli.
He was forbidden to go carting for personal safety reasons so he turned up in his Ferrari and drove around the track in that instead.
He went on TV wearing an AC Milan Jersey while playing for Inter Milan.
He didnʼt like the new Italian kit while on international duty so at half time he changed into the old kit.
He famously could not put on a training bib and got tangled up like cat in a Christmas Tree.
He set his bathroom on fire by letting off fireworks indoors and became the face of fire safety that Halloween.
I recently stumbled upon a concept called the Dunning-Kruger effect. It relates to individuals inaccurately rating their abilities. Unintelligent individuals suffer from illusory superiority and rate their abilities much higher than is accurate while highly intelligent individuals tend to rate their abilities much lower than is accurate. This is because the unintelligent donʼt have the basic level of intelligence needed to recognise their own ineptitude while the highly intelligent mistakenly believe that because something is easy for them then it must be easy for everyone else.
The result of this is that the idiots of the world go through life with a blissful ignorance and swagger while the smarter people constantly doubt themselves and worry about whether they are indeed capable human beings.
Mario Balotelli fits the ʻidiotʼ side of the bell curve here. Thereʼs a child-like naivety to him. He doesnʼt appear to have that base level of intelligence to see himself and his actions objectively. It doesnʼt always manifest in a bad way though. He is known for random acts of kindness as well as craziness.
While filling up his car at a petrol station he decided to pay for everybodyʼs petrol on the forecourt.
He adopted a stray cat who kept turning up to the Man City training ground.
He won cash at a casino and gave £1000 to a tramp outside.
These are the actions of a generous, well meaning man. Itʼs nearly reassuring that a man who is undisturbed by thought could instinctively act in this manner.
However, this ignorance of other peopleʼs experience of him doesnʼt cut it on the football pitch.
Iʼve only ever experienced Mario Balotelli from a distance in the past. Iʼd read the odd snippet of the mad things he says and does and then quickly move on and forget. Itʼs not that easy now that heʼs wearing a Liverpool jersey. Suddenly Iʼm personally invested in and directly affected by his antics.
I remember when he first signed I was shaking my head thinking that this was a bad idea The whole ethos of Liverpool is the team performance and working hard for each other on the pitch. Balotelli was the opposite of this. He plays for himself and has proven to be a slow releasing poison in the clubs heʼs played for previously with no manager ever sad to see him go.
I spoke to friends about it but of course I chose to listen to the ʻpro Balotelliʼ people. They assured me that he was maturing now that he was 24 years old and that the tight knit group at Liverpool would be perfect to make him feel at home and bring the best out of him. Also the £16 million price tag was an absolute bargain in this day and age for a player of his undoubted ability on the football field. Sounded good to me so I bought the Balotelli jersey. Iʼm committed now and fully prepared to support his tragic genius and madness.
So long as he can put the ball in the net that is.
We are now 10 games in and Balotelli has one goal to his name. In my opinion itʼs still too early to condemn him to the scrapheap but the media and pundits are only delighted to put the boot in and pile the pressure on.
The lack of goals doesnʼt bother me at this early stage. It may take a while for Balotelli to bed into the Liverpool way. Itʼs not uncommon for a new striker to struggle to get over the hump of his first Premier League goal. Surely, with a player of his ability, the goals will come.
What does bother me is Marioʼs attitude on the pitch. He still has this childish petulance in his play. He doesnʼt put the effort in to match the work rate of the rest of the team. Any time he loses the ball or skews one wide of the mark he looks for someone else to blame.
Even after 10 games you clearly see that Baloteliʼs attitude is affecting the other players. They hang their heads after making a run into the box only for Mario to blast one against the nearest defender without even considering passing to a team-mate. I even witnessed mild mannered Jordan Henderson screaming at him during the last game. I find this much more worrying than his lack of goals.
I donʼt blame Rodgers for signing Mario considering his age, experience and price tag. It appears like a decent punt on the face of it. Nearly a free-roll.
However, there is a long list of managers more experienced than Brendan Rodgers who have admitted defeat as regards taming the eccentric Italian and parted company labelling him ʻunmanageableʼ.
If the slow release poison is already taking effect then maybe Rodgers will have to accept that his Mario Balotelli gamble has not paid off and consider getting rid as soon as possible.
Regardless, he is here until January at the very least so I will continue to support him and hope that he gets his shit together and turns things around. I suspect this is his last chance at a meaningful career so for his sake I hope he does.
Goals will fix everything, so come on Mario Balotelli and get a few.
“He scores when he wants,
He scores when he waah-aah-ants.
Ba-lo-tell-i he scores when he wants.”
Unfortunately heʼs just not that arsed the majority of the time, which doesnʼt bode well for Liverpool this year.
by Billy Keane