When attempting to fathom where it’s all gone wrong for his 11th-place Liverpool side, Brendan Rodgers need only retrace his steps back to the summer transfer window – the vast majority of the Reds’ many problems his season have stemmed from there.
Indeed, it was a window that appeared devoid of any plan or structure on the Mersey outfit’s part, who seemed almost overawed by the £120million at their disposal, grabbing any promising talent or in-form player they could get their hands on – ranging from Southampton’s Rickie Lambert to Benfica prodigy Lazar Markovic. Resultantly, the Liverpool boss is now left with a squad lacking clarity, identity and hierarchy, posing far more questions than answers.
No signing epitomises this more than Mario Balotelli, a certified vanity project that’s gone horribly wrong for Rodgers. One can easily speculate his line of thought; “I controlled Luis Suarez as much as humanly possible for two seasons, perhaps I can do the same with Balotelli”. No doubt, the Anfield manager would love an individual triumph where Roberto Mancini, Cesare Prandelli and most significantly, Jose Mourinho, have failed.
The only problem is that whilst Suarez is an incredibly competitive footballer who often finds himself blurring the line of moral acceptability, Balotelli is a mischievous twelve year-old trapped in the body of a top-class centre-forward. They’re two completely different animals at opposing ends of the footballing bad-boy spectrum; the former, haunted by a desperate intensity to win, the mercurial latter motivated only by his own whims. As Mourinho claimed, ‘unmanageable’.
So it’s no great surprise the Italy international is still searching for his first Premier League goal in Liverpool colours, despite averaging 4.2 shots per match – the fifth-most of any player in Europe’s five leading top flights – whilst his controversial Twitter activity and infamous half-time shirt-swap with Real Madrid’s Pepe has drawn a plethora of negative attention.
Now Rodgers is faced with a real dilemma; does he admit his mistake in the transfer market – or perhaps a more fitting description would be egotism – by selling Balotelli in January, after just six months on Merseyside?
The goal-shy striker isn’t the first acquisition that’s left a lot to be desired since Rodgers took the Anfield helm three summers ago. In that time, he’s spent around £215million on 25 players, but only two have really gone on to exceed their transfer fees, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, whilst only four, Coutinho, Dejan Lovren, Simon Mignolet and Alberto Moreno, have made ten or more Premier League appearances this season. Seven have either left the club or are currently on loan. Overall, for a manager that boasts an LMA Manager of the Year award, Rodgers’ transfer record is exceptionally poor.
Thus, perhaps accepting defeat with Balotelli would provide a sense of atonement from the Liverpool boss – an admission that he and the club made mistakes this summer.
You’ll never get such an apology in spoken public verse; managers are prepared to question the performances of their players but rarely, if ever, themselves. Yet if Rodgers had the opportunity to repeat the summer window, the most lucrative one in Liverpool’s history likely containing the largest transfer budget he’ll ever receive as a manager, he’d almost certainly approach it with a less cavalier mindset.
Of course, there are some problems with this suggestion; firstly, managers tend to live and die by their signings, so selling Balotelli after just six months will only further add to the growing narrative that Rodgers and Liverpool’s transfer committee have taken the club a step backwards – however true that might be.
Secondly, who would actually want to buy Mario Balotelli right now? This is probably the lowest point of his entire career, and having now failed at two of the biggest clubs in Italy and two of the biggest clubs in England, potential transfer destinations are few and far between. Convincing the 24-year-old to join a lesser club, with three-and-a-half years left on his Anfield contract, won’t be an easy sell.
Yet, cutting loses – both in finance and reputation – rather than prolonging the obvious failings of Liverpool’s £16million acquisition in order to save face, is surely the more logical solution. And even if it’s only in non-verbal, tacit form, the Liverpool fans deserve an admission of their club’s poor business during the summer, a sign that the same mistakes won’t be made again and lessons have been learned.
Whether Rodgers has come to term with the extremities of Liverpool’s wayward recruitment however, remains to be seen.