Mario Balotelli’s loan switch back to former club AC Milan isn’t the huge risk that his disastrous form at Liverpool might portray.
Still only 25 years of age, Mario Balotelli should be coming into the prime of his career right now.
Yet, he has been cast aside by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers following numerous failed attempts to get the maverick striker to click during 12 tortuous months spent at Anfield.
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There was little doubt that Rodgers was taking a major gamble when he plucked the Italian international from AC Milan for a hefty £16 million fee.
But, ‘Super Mario’ had just struck 18 goals from 41 total appearances for the Rossoneri in 2013-14, whilst boasting an impressive 5.1 shots-per-game ratio in Serie A.
Furthermore, he’d hit double figures on the scoring charts over the course of six consecutive campaigns with Inter Milan, Manchester City and Milan prior to pitching up on Merseyside.
TOO HOT TO HANDLE
Balotelli was renowned for his troublesome behaviour, but the Reds supremo believed he was capable of harnessing that fiery nature in order to extract the very best out of the mercurial talent.
However, to naively think that he could possibly alter the feisty attacker’s ways was Rodgers’ first significant mistake.
Father figure Roberto Mancini tried to handle him at both Inter and Manchester City, but his young protege continued to partake in various crazy antics.
Mancini’s successor Jose Mourinho also endured several run-ins with Balotelli throughout his two-year tenure at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, before the Nerazzurri shipped him off to City in 2010.
The second – perhaps biggest – mistake was to place faith in the Azzurri star’s unproven ability to operate as a lone frontman.
For the duration of his entire career to date, it has been starkly evident that Balotelli isn’t a tireless worker, nor is he a particularly powerful specimen when forced into physical confrontations with opposition defenders.
Those traits have copped him some fierce criticism in the past, not least during his short stay at Liverpool.
To replace outgoing Uruguayan superstar Luis Suarez, who’d bagged 82 goals in 133 outings for the club, was never going to be easy.
Asking Balotelli to assume the role of attacking focal point was to hang him out to dry in that hugely difficult scenario.
He requires a striker partner to feed off; someone who is willing to do a large proportion of the running for him. Whether critics like it or not, Balotelli is unlikely to change his approach at this advanced juncture.
Uncovering a tactical solution giving the Palermo-born forward freedom to flourish should have been top of Rodgers’ list of priorities. Otherwise, what was the reason for signing him in the first instance?
He featured on 28 occasions last term – 14 times from the start – while notching a meagre total of four goals, precisely highlighting the disappointing outcome of that stubborn refusal to modify the team’s formation to the benefit of the Italian.
A return to San Siro evidently suits both parties, as it’s an environment Balotelli appears comfortable within.
His record of one goal every 2.4 games over his combined spells with both Milan sides says as much, while a total of 28 assists in that period suggests he can link successfully with teammates when provided with substantial support.
It must be acknowledged that he was rarely afforded the correct tools with which to do the job expected of him at Anfield.
Searing criticism of his performances was rife, and rightly so at times, but he was failed by the man who sanctioned his purchase.
Balotelli will shine once back home again, just as he did within the familiar surroundings of Serie A in past seasons.