If Liverpool hope to finish in the top four and qualify for next season’s Uefa Champions League, manager Brendan Rodgers could do a lot worse than sideline Mario Balotelli. The enigmatic Italian striker is the real reason the Reds have struggled this season in my opinion and not the departure of Luis Suarez. When Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United, Wayne Rooney was asked to step up and the Englishman started banging in the goals for the Red Devils like never before. Some say Rooney should still be playing as an out-and-out striker. I rate Rodgers as a competent manager and I am confident a Daniel Sturridge, or someone else for that matter, could have been tasked with stepping up to the plate.
Someone like Sturridge may have actually relished the challenge. Now it is true Sturridge is not Suarez and neither is Rooney Ronaldo, but the best players know how to up their game and the challenge of proving that you are better than everyone else thinks you are is one most professionals would accept readily. Who would not want to be Liverpool’s number one striker for example?
Instead the Anfield club spent £16 million on a maverick; a madman but a marvel on his day no less. Has the 24-year old justified the price tag? One goal in ten outings suggest the answer is absolutely not. He has not even set up a goal for a teammate. But has he already caused controversy? Of course. I do not wish to discuss the matter of trading shirts at half-time of the Champions League match against Real Madrid but whichever way you look at it, Balotelli is psychologically fragile, awfully inconsistent and frankly not worth the drama that comes with his undoubted talent.
The price tag has not been justified by the performances. Now in the current era £16 million is a relative bargain for a striker but consider that Southampton paid £8 for Graziano Pelle who has already netted seven goals in ten appearances for the Saints, without any annoying antics, then the Balotelli buy begins to go from bad to worse to the outside observer. I do not want to blast Rodgers because he should be commended for taking a chance on a man who is a world beater on his day. Unfortunately for the Northern Irishman, Balotelli’s days appear to be few and far between.
Apart from a good return at AC Milan in Serie A, Balotelli has never really been prolific. Only strikers that score 20 times a season (minimum) are going to be playing for title-contending teams. In fact, title-contending teams should not want a striker incapable of netting a score every season. Suarez has achieved that feat on no less than four occasions while the Italian has never done it. Sturridge hit the back of the net 21 times last season and thus the case that the 25-year old is of more value than his Italian counterpart can be made.
Now I know Sturridge has picked up an injury and there is no way to plan for things like that. Even so someone like Rickie Lambert is likely to be more potent in front of goal than the former Inter Milan striker. One Reds supporter called for the club to sell the Italian in January.
That might come across as drastic but I can see the logic. The gamble has not paid off and now it is time to move on before it is too late and that Champions League berth is surrendered to bitter rivals Manchester United. I’ll end off with what I think is the perfect summary of Balotelli, courtesy of ESPN, “A footballer who divides opinions across the game, Balotelli is perhaps the most unpredictable forward in world football. Capable of both the magical and moronic, he is never far away from the limelight and has a long-winding catalogue of crazy antics to his name.”