Is Mario Balotelli still worth a gamble?
Liverpool’s struggles in 2014-15 were well documented, and no single player typified the problems of the Merseyside club more than the enigmatic Italian Mario Balotelli. Signed in late August 2014 as a makeshift replacement for Luis Suarez, the tall and powerful Balotelli never seemed to gel with Brendan Rodgers’ style and spent much of the season either on the bench or failing to make an impact on the pitch.
One year, and just one Premier League goal later, ‘Super Mario’ has fallen down the pecking order at Liverpool. The signings of Christian Benteke and Danny Ings, as well as the arrival of Divock Origi from a loan spell at Lille has pushed Balotelli to the fringes of Rodgers’ squad and he is highly unlikely to feature in the coming season. With his talent and his high salary, it would seem like an exit from Anfield would be the most satisfactory outcome for both parties. The question is, will anyone take the risk on Balotelli?
According to the papers, there aren’t many top clubs who believe Mario is still worth a gamble. A few Italian clubs, namely Fiorentina, Lazio and Bologna have been the most consistently linked with Balotelli, as well as Qatari Club Al-Arabi and even Serie C minnows Lupa Castelli. A return to Serie A appears to be his most likely destination, providing he agrees to take a pay cut, but doubts remain over whether Balotelli would be able to rebuild his career in his homeland. From his position, he has very little to lose by returning to Italy, but can he convince a good club that he is worth the investment?
Going off the back of talent and reputation, Balotelli would walk into virtually any side in the Italian league. Not only has he won Serie A, the Champions League and the Premier League, he was also a winner of the prestigious Golden Boy award, given annually to the most promising talent in Europe under the age of 21. Other winners of the award include Paul Pogba, Sergio Aguero, Mario Goetze and Lionel Messi, showing the quality of players that Balotelli should be aspiring to compete with. His 33 caps for Italy have produced 13 goals and a number of excellent displays, most notably the European Championships semi-final against Germany, where he steered the Azzurri into the final with two magnificent goals. Talent-wise, there aren’t many strikers that can compete.
Not only is Balotelli talented, he is also still young, at 24, and has plenty of time to turn his career around and become a world class striker. Not only does he still possess potential, Liverpool’s willingness to sell means he will be available at a knock-down price, with a fee of roughly £7 million thought to be their requested fee. On paper, a move for Balotelli looks to be a no-brainer.
However, for all of his early promise and obvious talent, Balotelli is equally equipped with a gift for finding trouble. Never far from controversy, the Italian has been described as “unmanageable” by Jose Mourinho and has picked up numerous red cards in his career for displays of petulance. For all of the matches he has won for his various teams over the years, he has probably lost as many through a red card or sulking on the pitch for the entirety of a game. To get the good from Balotelli, you also have to deal with the bad. And the bad is really bad.
Not is Balotelli’s attitude off-putting for potential suitors, but so is his recent form. His time at Liverpool has seen him score one solitary Premier League goal in 940 minutes of action. Furthermore, this single goal came from as mammoth 56 shots over the season. 25 of these shots came from inside the penalty area, where any striker worth his salt should be scoring the vast majority of his chances. The fact that over half of his shots last season were taken from outside the area also show that he is often quite self-centred when on the ball, often looking for the spectacular goal rather than playing in a team-mate. Again, this is all a big turn off for anyone looking to recruit ‘Super Mario’.
His poor record at Anfield though, whilst very bad, was not quite as awful as many have suggested. Not only did the individual Balotelli fail to fit in with Brendan Rodgers’ holistic style, but he was unable to put together a good run of games thanks to regular niggling injury problems. There also appeared to be less tantrums and much more effort from Mario than has been seen in his career previously.
Not only did he look slightly more mature at Liverpool, but all of the very few goals he scored turned out to be crucial to their season. His first gave Liverpool a late lead on their Champions League return against Ludogorets, his second an equaliser late in a League Cup tie against Swansea, as well as the winner in a thrilling 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur and late penalty winner against Besiktas in the Europa League. He may not have delivered much at Liverpool, but when he did pop up with a goal, it was always an important one. He can still be a big game player.
So Balotelli does still have something to offer anyone who will give him a chance. He is undoubtedly talented, with a handy knack of popping up with a crucial goal in a big moment, and still has plenty of time to improve his attitude and ability at the age of 24. Anyone buying Mario will have genuine concerns, however, about his attitude and his stubborn petulance and the individual nature in which he plays the game. After failing at Liverpool, Mario’s chance to succeed at a top club is over, at least for the near future. For clubs such as Bologna and Fiorentina, though, signing someone of Balotelli’s calibre could be just what they need to transform them from upper mid-table clubs to Champions League dwelling teams. The chance of success may be slim, but it might just be worth a punt.
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