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.[separator type=”thin”]
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Luka Modric could prove the perfect Emre Can replacement at Liverpool
The Croatian has been linked with a move to Anfield with Emre Can expected to leave this summer.
Emre Can looks set to be on his way out of Anfield this summer as the 24-year-old German international seems unwilling to sign a new contract at Liverpool.
Spanish news outlet El Gol Digital have recently linked Real Madrid with the German international, although they would have to fend off interest from European rivals Juventus.
Speaking to Sport 1, Can recently expressed his desire to be featured in the world team of the year at some point in his career.
For the 24-year-old, it would be difficult to turn down a club of Madrid’s magnitude and his departure would represent a blow for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Nonetheless, a swap deal for Real Madrid star Luka Modric would be a superb way to ease the pain of the German’s exit.
Reports linking Can with the Bernabeu come just a matter of weeks after Spanish newspaper Dario Gol expressed Luka Modric’s desire to leave the current Champions League holders.
The Croation international is reportedly keen on a return to the Premier League return, with Liverpool, along with Tottenham, named as front-runners for his signature.
Even at 32 years of age, the Croatian midfielder is still one of the best players in the world and would represent an excellent short-term fix for the Reds.
His brilliant passing range, his superb footballing brain, and his delicate skills are all crucial components that would boost Liverpool’s attacking threat.
Combined with a world-class attack consisting of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane, the Reds truly could stake a claim for the most dynamic frontline in England next season.
Most importantly, the addition of Modric could finally mark the replacement for Philippe Coutinho that many Liverpool supporters have been begging for.
A seasoned international with tremendous experience at the upper levels of world football would be a remarkable transfer for Klopp’s side, and would surely bolster their title aspirations in 2018/19.
Andrew Robertson the most important Liverpool summer signing
The Scottish left-back has plugged a gap that has existed at Liverpool for some time.
Mohamed Salah rightly received all the praise yesterday, after Liverpool put Watford to the sword in the Premier League.
Liverpool beat the Hornets 5-0 at Anfield, with the Egyptian scoring four of the goals.
It is hard to argue with Salah being the club’s best signing in the summer. His tally of 37 goals in 43 games certainly highlights that fact.
However, the most important signing might have been that of Andrew Robertson.
The Scottish left-back joined from Hull City in a deal, reported by the Independent, to be worth around £8 million. That price-tag is now looking an absolute bargain.
Liverpool have had problems at left-back for a number of seasons.
Alberto Moreno looked like being the solution. However, the Spaniard’s defensive work and decision making made him a liability.
Jon Flanagan, who was Brendan Rodgers’ regular left-back, has not reached similar heights since a series of knee injuries decimated his promising career.
Last season saw James Milner fill the role. The experienced midfielder played well out of position but long-term, was not the solution.
Now, Liverpool have Robertson. The Scotland international has made the step up from his time at Hull with ease.
The 24-year-old Glaswegian is not only a threat going forward, but defensively he is exceptional.
His delivery into the box is undoubtedly exemplary, but he is equally adept at stopping opposing players from getting near Liverpool’s.
Liverpool have managed to bring in a player perfectly suited to Jurgen Klopp’s style of play.
Heavy-metal is the way Robertson plays in both attack and defence and the fans at Anfield already love him.
At just £8 million and only 24-years-old Liverpool picked up the bargain of the summer in the Premier League.
If Robertson can continue to progress and play with the same level of consistency he already has, then a decade of dominance at left-back could follow as Liverpool’s left-back.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah within touching distance of all-time Premier League goal-scoring record
The Egyptian international has 28 Premier League goals this term.
Anfield witnessed a truly special moment in the second half of Liverpool’s 5-0 thrashing of Watford on Saturday. Winning 3-0, Liverpool were running riot in wintry conditions, and Mohamed Salah collected the ball just inside the box on a hat-trick.
What followed was absolute magic, emblematic of a dream debut season in the north-west for the Egyptian. Salah was mobbed by three defenders, but left all three in the dust with one deft cut-back.
Then, with two more Watford players crashing in on the ball, Salah remarkably managed to poke an improvised finish into the far corner past the helpless Orestis Karnezis.
As Salah wheeled away in celebration, tongue stuck out and arms extended, Anfield reveled in history in the making. That goal marked Salah’s 27th of the Premier League season and he would go on to score his 28th just eight minutes later.
The Egyptian is on course to smash the Premier League scoring records in emphatic fashion. The current record is 31 goals, a tally achieved by Alan Shearer in 1995/96, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007/08, and fellow Red Luis Suarez in 2013/14.
With seven matches remaining, including fixtures against the likes of West Brom and Stoke, few would bet against Salah demolishing the 22-year-old record.
The achievement would place Salah in the illustrious company of Premier League legends, an incredible feat for a player who many in England wrote off during his short spell at Chelsea.
Thanks to Salah, Liverpool have barely missed a step after the departure of Philippe Coutinho in January, advancing to the Champions League quarterfinals and cementing their top-four position.
The prolific winger is proving all of his doubters wrong in audacious fashion, and with a Premier League Golden Boot and goal-scoring record seemingly on the way, he is one of the most in-form players in the world.
The early-April European clash with Manchester City will provide Salah with, perhaps, his biggest stage yet. Expect the top goalscorer in England to rise to the occasion.
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