The hope will be that Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers will finally tame Mario Balotelli and bring the best out of the Italian for an entire season. That hope was held in the past by Manchester City and AC Milan, both aware of the undoubted talent in the striker but unable to convince themselves that the headache was worth a reward that wasn’t guaranteed.
Though Balotelli has a good record in front of goal for Milan, the club have made no secret of their intention to sell this summer. Liverpool’s bid and interest has come late– and that’s if we’re to believe Rodgers’ statement that Balotelli was “categorically” no on the agenda. That they’ve been unrivalled in their advances for Balotelli should be an indicator as to how volatile the forward can be. There is upside, obviously. But few clubs have deemed him worth the gamble.
Whichever way you cut it, £16 million is a bargain fee for a striker with so much experience, potential and current ability. Balotelli’s baggage is well known and that wackiness and unpredictable nature looks set to be warmly welcomed back to the Premier League. If Liverpool and Rodgers strike gold, they’ll easily be able to forget the goals that have been lost following Luis Suarez’s departure to Barcelona. Yes, the style of play is different; Suarez is a livewire that looks to control the game from all areas of the pitch, whereas Balotelli can appear subdued for the majority before providing a match-winner in spectacular fashion.
There is nothing that really needs to be said about Balotelli acclimatising to the Premier League. Regardless of whether he’s been involved in English football before, Balotelli is that rare breed of footballer that can seamlessly slot into any league, no matter its reputation; his unwavering confidence in his own abilities providing the platform for him to succeed.
It’s been clear that Liverpool have needed another striker since Suarez’s sale became a talking point during the World Cup. I’m not for following the line of thinking that dictates that in order to compete successfully in the Champions League you need a wide assortment of strikers. There are plenty of top clubs who compete in UEFA’s premier club competition with far less than four senior strikers.
But Liverpool only have Daniel Sturridge to turn to this summer. There’s a lot of romance attached to Rickie Lambert’s move from Southampton to Anfield, but the 32-year-old is not good enough by a long way to play anything more than a reliever.
Liverpool are simply taking advantage of the availability of a striker that can offer far, far more than, say, Wilfried Bony. The Swansea forward isn’t the headache (and understatement, of course) the Italian can be, but his talents fall well short of what Balotelli can produce. The fees, with Swansea now open to negotiating Bony’s sale, would be in the same ballpark.
Liverpool can also find a lot of comfort in Balotelli’s age. Having recently turned 24, Balotelli has the kind of sell-on value that will see the club recoup their £16 million investment. Naturally the club will need a buyer if that situation comes to pass, but for arguments sake, there should be no worry about recording a future loss in their signing of the striker.
With Balotelli, it doesn’t appear as straightforward as simply having a troubled forward find a manager who can guide him away from his current controversial nature. Balotelli is naturally the kind of person who likes the attention, whether it be in his post-match interviews or his driving of camouflaged Bentleys. Top managers at three major European clubs have been unable to force the Italian to mature; there is no guarantee Rodgers will finally be able to do so.
But at only £16 million and the upside so rewarding, there is no obvious danger in Liverpool completing a deal for Balotelli.
Unless he changes his ways, sooner or later the biggest clubs around Europe will collectively decide that they’ve had enough. Fortunately for the Italian international, that time hasn’t come yet.