“Forget about Mario Balotelli, he is an absolute waste of time. He shouldn’t be anywhere near this team.” Once again Mark Lawrenson, the former Liverpool man has stuck the boot in on the struggling Italian striker. As Liverpool laboured to a 0-0 FA Cup quarter final draw with Blackburn Rovers last weekend, second half substitute Balotelli was again the only player to be publicly chastised.
Super Mario has become the ‘Super Scapegoat’.
Even on a night when he won his side a game, this time against Besiktas, the headlines were not of Mario rescuing a turgid Liverpool performance with a late penalty. Instead it was how ‘disrespectful’ he was. Taking the penalty off Jordan Henderson to selfishly ensure his side took a lead to the second leg.
Even captain Gerrard had to run with this story rather than one about a young player, struggling at a new club, who managed to keep his nerve in a pressurised situation.
When he scored, arguably his most important Liverpool goal, a late winner against top four rivals Tottenham, the story that dominated social media the next day was how ‘arrogant’ Balotelli did not even celebrate, showing his disregard for the club. It is almost like being the sole reason for a team’s failure can begin to grind.
There is no doubt that the former Manchester City man has struggled since his arrival on Merseyside. His most positive performance for his club came on his debut, when he and Sturridge cut ribbons through Tottenham in an emphatic away win.
Then the injury to Sturridge came and Mario was expected to lead the line by himself, a role which has never and will never suit his style of play. Although the whole side was struggling for form, unable to replicate the heroics of the previous season, only Balotelli was continuously picked out and derided for his form.
A lot of the negative attitudes towards the Italian stemmed from an incident where he swapped shirts at half time against Real Madrid. Something so trivial which helped to overshadow the fact that they had just been humiliated at home against the Spanish champions.
Anything to take away attention.
A lot of the criticism for the form of Balotelli should be placed at the door of the manager. Brendan Rodgers knew the player he was signing; it was not like it was some unknown talent he was acquiring. The issues that have been so troubling to club and manager are ones that have always been tagged with the striker.
When Liverpool signed him, they signed a precocious talent, one that needed nurturing and cherishing. Instead it seems he was bought almost for the sole purpose of taking attention away from an underperforming team.
The method is simple, if the Liverpool team are struggling, bring him on and let him be the story.
If Super Mario can rebuild his Liverpool career it would be one of the great stories in English football, if only to make sure Mark Lawrenson is proved to be an incompetent fool. Again.