Liverpool are making a massive mistake in signing Mario Balotelli and there is every chance they will selling him on to the next victims of his erratic firm and moods.
Reports emerged on Wednesday that the Anfield club had agreed a fee in the region of £16million with AC Milan to secure the signing of the Italy international and that a deal was close to completion.
Balotelli told friends and colleagues at the Rossoneri’s training ground that it would be his final day there and left to travel to England for what will be his second spell in the Premier League.
There are few more notorious professional footballers in the world than the 24-year-old striker and what he gets up to off the pitch is reported on as much as what he does on it.
At every club he has been at Balotelli has left a trail of bizarre behaviour and frustration from fans and players alike behind him. He is the epitome of a player that has all the talent and not enough of the wherewithal to understand how he is wasting so much of it.
Various bizarre occurences
Setting off fireworks in his bedroom, buying everyone a tank of petrol when stopping at a petrol station, getting caught strolling through the grounds of a women’s prison while on a trip back to Italy or having trouble with bibs are all reasons why people take a liking to Balotelli and, by all accounts from those who know him, he is a very likeable man.
These are just stories, however; incidents for the media to report with a light-hearted tilt and media reports can be ignored. Balotelli being a bit of a big kid can be ignored, so it is not his propensity for a bizarre incident that is worrying.
What can’t be ignored is a lack of application on the pitch and in training, which he is notorious for. Jose Mourinho was the striker’s manager at his first club, Inter Milan, and the now Chelsea boss’ words regarding him then are informative.
Mourinho claimed the then 18-year-old could be the best player in the world if only he applied himself in training, criticising him for a lack of effort and being in danger of wasting his career.
A frustrating fellow
How often in a match have we seen Balotelli strolling and looking disinterested when the situation required a more energetic, committed performance? It must be infuriating for a manager and teammates to see him looking surly and not putting the work in when a game is on the line.
The age of big, immobile strikers is well and truly over, all front men must now work incredibly hard and be constantly moving across the front line, creating space and making defenders think. It’s not as if Balotelli doesn’t have that in him – he’s a physical specimen – but he loses impetus so quickly.
He is no longer the 18-year-old brat at Inter Milan and he appears to improving year on year in terms of goal returns, but there is just too much that is likely to go wrong for this to be a good signing for Liverpool.
Petulance is still a trait and when things are not going his, or his team’s, way Balotelli is prone to lashing out; making rash challenges, picking up silly yellow cards or red cards.
Italy’s crucial World Cup group matches against Costa Rica and Uruguay were high pressure and the Azzuri were struggling. Their star striker and key attacking player responded to this pressure by getting outrageous bookings in both matches and could just as easily been sent off in both matches.
Temperament issues may recede with age but Liverpool will be his fourth club since 2010 and his time with the previous three all finished in similar ways; the clubs losing patience with his failure to realise his talent and deciding he was too expensive for the wages they were paying him.
Anfield was blessed with some sensational football last season and it was all based on Rodgers’ modern system that deployed high intensity pressing and lightning quick counter-attacking.
Luis Suarez was a sensational player not only because of his ability to score shedloads of goal, but because of how hard he worked for the team. The Uruguayan combined terrifically with Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, all of whom matched his work rate.
Perhaps Rodgers can coax a hard-working, dedicated and selfless professional out of Balotelli, but the evidence up to now would suggest any such self-belief on the part of the Liverpool boss is misplaced.
Unpredictability will entertain
If anything, Balotelli will bring a sense of fun to the Premier League again, purely because his personality means one is never quite sure if he will produce some sublime brilliance or do something erratic.
When Suarez joined Barcelona the Reds were left with a huge dearth of talent up front and the need to replace him is great. In terms of ability, Balotelli is more than capable of matching Suarez, but he is not even close to being as good a player.
Few people want Balotelli to fail, but this move feels like it is only ever going to end that way.