Mario Balotelli has been told time and time again by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers that his Anfield career is not over yet. But has the Northern Irishman's patience been pushed too far this time?
The 24-year-old hothead has yet to score in the Premier League having signed in the summer for £16 million, and was recently omitted altogether from the squad for the cup tie against Bolton Wanderers.
For most, to be completely left out of a cup squad against a side in a lower division would be devastating, but for Balotelli this is the norm. A player known for his off-field antics, the Italian has never been one to stay out of the media limelight. But, it looks like Rodgers is fed up with his ongoing behaviour and has issued him a direct warning.
"He knows exactly what is required to be in this squad before he can be in the team," explained the Reds boss. "I am judging it every day in training – Mario is exactly the same as every other player, there is no special treatment for anyone."
For a footballer, being singled out in a press conference by your manager for criticism is the final straw. Balotelli will have until the summer to prove to Liverpool that he is what they need in their side.
Rodgers has also praised the work of his other strikers, further outlining Balotelli’s problem with commitment.
"Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert are working tirelessely in training and when they go on they have contributed. Young Jordan Rossiter has been brilliant in training and I have to judge it on that.
"If you want to contribute you have to be at it every single day in training in order to be in the squad on matchday."
So what does the enigmatic Italian need to do to convince Rodgers that he is the man to lead the line? Goals would be a start. No league goals since signing in the summer, and for a fee of £16 million, this is just not good enough.
Room for improvement
Balotelli's work rate also needs to be enhanced too. For someone as physically built as he is, it doesn’t seem that he uses this to as much use as he could in the physically demanding English top-flight.
The challenge for European places in the Premier League will soon heat up, with Liverpool firmly in place to try and reach one of them. But they need Balotelli to up his game and fast.
With leader and legend Steven Gerrard leaving at the end of the season, Liverpool fans are looking to the rest of the squad to step up, and Balotelli has to step up with them.
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