Liverpool, and Balotelli's Last Chance at Redemption
Jose Mourinho, the current Chelsea manager and one-time coach to Mario Balotelli whilst at Inter Milan, once joked, when asked whether or not he considered Balotelli the most problematic player he had ever had to worked with, that the Italian was not so much as problematic as many may assume as he would prefer to think that he was rather "funny." The Portuguese gaffer added that "Mario was good fun." "I could write a book of 200 pages of my 2 years in Inter with Mario. But the book will be not a drama, but a comedy."
A couple of years on, and no one is amused, as the towering Italian is now famed into mere notoriety for his series of never-ending drama on and off the pitch.
Once sought out by most of the top football clubs for his talent and ability to impose himself on defenders in the field of play, Mario Balotelli has since fallen from grace. Since his departure from England to Italy in the January transfer window in 2013, the Italian front man has been caught up in series of controversies and has seen his form dip considerably.
Ordinarily, Baloletti's footballing abilities should make him prime candidate for the best teams in the world. Sadly, what the striker possesses in skill and talent, he lacks in indiscipline and indiscretion.
As a teenager, excuses were often made as to why he acted the way he did. But I guess a lot changes as one gets older and poor decisions slowly become adjudged to be one's true character. Although a lot of people will argue that Balotelli is still being misunderstood and that the forward means well and has been a victim of unreasonable scrutiny and the result of having to deal with the pressures that come with it, the truth is that football is a multi-billion pounds industry and many clubs just don't have the luxury of gambling on players that are nothing short of an accident waiting to happen.
The Big Gamble
To the surprise of many, Liverpool announced sometime in the summer transfer window that they had managed to secure the services of Mario Balotelli. Many were astounded to see the man many call "Super Mario" at the stands in Manchester (on the night Liverpool lost 3:1 to Manchester City) on the day the news of his acquisition broke. And many others that missed that were even more dismayed to read about news of his penning a deal the following day.
- No Welcome Party for Balotelli at the Etihad as Manchester City beat Liverpool 3:1
Mario Balotelli had to watch from the stands at the Etihad as his new team, Liverpool, struggled to match the strength of the team from the blue end of Manchester.
Questions were immediately asked about the wisdom behind the move, especially for a club like Liverpool hoping to challenge for the Premier League title this season and planning to make a statement in the Champions League being their first time since 2009.
The move was further brought to question following the fact that Balotelli was brought in to replace Luis Suarez, who left for Catalonia to join FC Barcelona and who was the standout best striker in the league last season.
Liverpool is no stranger to controversial characters as Luis Suarez was always a step away from drama in his time at the club. The Uruguayan was notorious for a wide range of off-the-ball antics ranging from diving to racial abuse to sticking him teeth into other people.
Suarez brought Liverpool unnecessary publicity and incurred hefty fines that they most certainly did not anticipate. But in the case of Balotelli, Liverpool can say that they have taken all the possible precautions they could before signing the Italian. They sought reassurances from the forward that he would at least try to conduct himself like a gentleman both on and off the pitch. And though it is still too early to tell whether the Italian intends to keep his word, one thing is certain, early signs indicate that he intends to.
Will Balotelli redeem himself at Liverpool?
Path to Redemption
There are early indications that Mario Balotelli may have learned from his "boyish" mistakes from his first time in England and is now ready to set his career back on track. The Palermo-born had declared, before arriving at Liverpool, that leaving the English Premier League was a mistake on his part as it appears his career stalled during his time at AC Milan. The striker also stressed that football in England was more beautiful and that he is quite glad to be making a return to the English top flight.
Although he has only played for his new club once, a lot can be said about how he went about his business in that game. There were times in the match when it seemed that the opposing [Totenham] defenders were only bent on getting him excited. The Balotelli of old would have taken a swipe at them or even taken it out on the ref, but he did no such thing, opting to stick to the football at hand until he was substituted in the second half. He was rather unfortunate not to have recorded a goal on his debut, as his effort was denied by the woodwork.
The last and final sign that Balotelli is on the road to redemption is not actually a sign per se as it is more of a wake up call. For the first time since breaking into the national side, Italy dropped their talisman from recent victory to Holland, and will do the same for their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier against Norway. The new Italian national team boss, Antonio Conte, has made no secrets of the fact that there will be no sacred cows in his side. According to Conte, “You can have talent but if you don’t put yourself at the service of the team, it doesn’t interest me." “What is important is that those who are in the national team have to know how to behave and how to stay in the team.”
If this move to drop Balotelli does not scream "it's time to get your acts together!" to the towering forward, then nothing probably will.
Only time will tell
Liverpool have taken a bold risk signing Mario Balotelli. The 24 year old came with a reasonable £16 price tag and a promise to help the fortunes of the club while conducting himself honorably at all times. No one can possibly question Super Mario's ability. When the Italian decides to play football, he is actually unstoppable. But sadly, that doesn't happen that often, as his ego nearly always gets the better of him.
Will Liverpool live to regret their decision to gamble on this "liability" of a man, or will Balotelli take the initiative to shut his critics up once and for all, and show what great a player he truly is? Only time will tell.
Brendan Rodgers brought out the very best from an unsettled Luis Suarez last season. And if the Northern Irishman could help Luis Suarez "overcome his demons," then my money is on him doing the same with Balotelli this time around.