"I can categorically tell you Mario Balotelli will not be at Liverpool." Those were the words of Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers at the beginning of August, yet a mere three weeks later and the controversial Italian is in line to make his debut for the Merseyside club.
Many are questioning what has sparked the sudden volte-face on Rodgers' part, with suggestions that the failure to replace Luis Suarez with other targets and an attractive deal financially being the main culprits. In the current climate of clubs throwing money around for strikers like they've salvaged it from a discarded Monopoly box, £12 million for Shane Long being the prime example, the £16 million Liverpool are believed to have paid for Balotelli, from an ability perspective, looks to be somewhat of a steal.
While the deal to bring Balotelli back to England, on paper, is a bargain, there is a reason why he is so cheap in comparison to the rest of the market - he's damaged goods and has caused trouble everywhere he goes. From a bathroom firework display to going to a strip club, coincidentally in Liverpool, in the build up to a big game for Manchester City, the Italian has courted trouble and controversy from the start of his career and seems to revel in it. It's a very different kind of self-destructiveness from the one that afflicts Suarez.
The incidents that have surrounded Suarez, though not to defend them, have all stemmed from his passion for the game and hatred for losing, a frustration at things not going his way. It is still reprehensible and completely unfathomable in the wider context of the game, but it seems like a combustibility that he cannot control. Balotelli just seems bored. He displays all the pitfalls of a young footballer with the world at his feet who got paid too much, too young. With all that money, all that time off after training and no self control, he's racked up a list of misdemeanours akin to an affluent and more risqué version of Dennis the Menace.
But what can he bring to Liverpool on the pitch?
He has it all, essentially. Pace, strength, good on the ball and with an eye for goal, Balotelli sounds like the perfect replacement for Suarez, but it's his on-the-pitch attitude that will lead to him coming up short in replacing the Uruguayan in Scouse hearts. It's a frustration that has been evident at every club he has played for, that there is so much potential in the young man, but not the application. It is why Manchester City fans were not that sad to see the back of him, it will no doubt have been a contributing factor to AC Milan deciding he was dispensable and it is what sets him apart from Suarez.
For all his teething problems and penchant for diving, you never hear the word "lazy" and "Luis Suarez" in the same sentence, it just isn't in his nature to be. The amount of points Liverpool accrued last season due to Barcelona's record signing grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and producing moments of unimaginable magic would need to be counted on every extremity available. Don't expect to see the same from Balotelli. He is capable of it, with the mind harking back to Euro 2012 and his solo demolition of now world champions Germany, but unfortunately you're more likely to see him meandering around the pitch than making it his own.
And then there's the dressing room to worry about. It always seemed that Suarez was an integral part of the tight-knit team spirit that was no doubt a contributing factor in them pushing Manchester City to the very end in their quest for the title. He was looked up to by the younger players and was quick to acknowledge and point out his team-mates' contribution. Even when he berated Daniel Sturridge for holding onto the ball like it was his favourite Subway sandwich, Sturridge knew his strike partner was right to and it only served to improve his own game. Balotelli is a different proposition. He may just upset the proverbial apple cart.
It doesn't take much sifting to find examples of Balotelli arguing and scrapping with his previous team-mates and even former manager Roberto Mancini. New boss Brendan Rodgers certainly has a cooler head than Mancini and won't get himself into a similar situation with Balotelli, but there is every chance of some egos clashing, especially with both the Italian and Daniel Sturridge, no doubt, wanting to be the central striker of a front three.
There may well be a honeymoon period for Liverpool and Balotelli to begin with, but it wouldn't be a shock to see the sun set on the positivity before the season is through.
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