by Chris Tobin
Picture a forlorn Mario Balotelli slumped at the bar spitting and snarling and falling over as he sups up at the last chance saloon, encouraged by the bartender Brendan as he unwittingly pours him one more glass of red seemingly unaware of the effect Mario is having on his fella drinkers. In doing so Rodgers has become an accessory in the murder of the flowing destructive football which was Liverpool’s trademark the previous season, and that guilt may well lie with the purchase of Balotelli.
Many have not been sold on the flawed genius of Mario Balotelli, often described as a footballing enigma, and I fear he is just not as good as the hype was driven to make us all believe. Even if Mario is as good as Mario believes he is the unpredictable Italian is not a Liverpool type of player, lacking a team ethic or the legendary fighting spirit that the club has a history of showing.
Can one player surely be the cause for the teams failings so far this term? I believe it can: his frailties as an out and out striker are clear for all to see. Mario plays backwards, whereas Liverpool’s and Rodgers philosophy is to play toward their opponent’s goal. Build up play and particularly the wing backs attacking prowess is stifled with Balotelli’s seemingly unwilling nature to release the ball early enough whilst his habit of playing with his back to goal means he wanders too deep into his own half to collect the ball, leaving Liverpool without a front man too often.
The demeanour of Mario gives opponents an easy afternoon, often giving away his frustration and this was displayed for all to see in Europe when he constantly berated Raheem Sterling when the youngster was having as a poor a game as the Italian. With wayward passes and poor positional play, the shrugging and huffing toward the 19 year old will not, and would not have helped. Its little wonder Sterling looked a shadow of the player we were all eulogising over just a few weeks ago, evidently prior to the inclusion of Balotelli.
Balotelli at his best always had a freedom to roam where and when he wanted, a license granted due to his skill, touch and strength and when he is up for it this all becomes an asset. However when the lazy predictable Mario turns up, then that’s a completely different story: he falls over at the merest touch seeking the easy option of trying to win free kicks and all this type of play does is hold up Liverpool’s quick passing aggressive attacking. Additionally it gives their opponents time to regroup.
If you are a special player, a great footballer, a genius then your individual failings can be ignored. However, when you are not producing that quality then fingers and criticism will be pointed at you.
The thing that Balotelli has on his side is youth; he is 24 – younger than Daniel Sturridge – yet we assume he has been around for an age because of the teams he has played for and the honours he has already amassed. Consequently he is given very little slack. If Brendan Rodgers can do a similar turnabout job to the one involving Sturridge, then maybe Mario can also be taken to the next personal level.
Rodgers must be aware that Balotelli cannot be expected to furrow a loan striker role, which clearly has not worked and it will be very interesting to see the effect the return of Sturridge has on Balotelli especially when the load of being the main striker is taken from his shoulders.
It is early days in the Liverpool career of Mario Balotelli and expectation is high. Rodgers has already shown that he is prepared to leave Mario on the side-lines for the overall good of the squad and team, but Rodgers should also be finding ways to make the great Balotelli experiment work. There were flashes in the game against West Bromwich when the interaction of Steven Gerrard pushing up to the final third helped make Mario look like the player we assumed we have purchased. Incidentally Gerrard himself looked far more comfortable in this position.
Balotelli being the most high profile of Liverpool’s summer recruits will come under more scrutiny than any other, but Mario must find a way to make it work, or the possibility hangs over that he may get his last orders in this last chance saloon.
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