Why always me? Balotelli buy centres media circus on Liverpool
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water after the sale of Luis Suarez, Liverpool fans have a new temperamental talisman to talk about.
The Red half of Merseyside will hope he will give them some teeth in the title race (now 14/1 with Coral to be Premier League champions), not in the shoulders or appendages of opponents.
Mario Balotelli’s signature at Anfield has simultaneously and swiftly stolen the spotlight from both his new teammates and former ones.
How we hear you ask? A Premier League game took place on the very evening of the firebrand Italy forward’s official arrival at Liverpool, and it just so happened to be at his old stomping ground the Etihad.
All sides of that ground were talking about the one player who isn’t involved. For Manchester City fans, it was a chance to reminisce. “Remember the fireworks in his bathroom?” You could cut the Mancunian accents harking back heartily with a knife.
Balotelli, mercurial talent that he is, had a watching brief as City beat the Reds 3-1, with Stevan Jovetic doing most of the damage. The Italy international’s unpredictability may have paid dividends in the final third here as only an own goal from Pablo Zabaleta beat Joe Hart.
Much has been written about the terms and conditions of Balotelli’s transfer to Liverpool. This mainly surrounds his conduct. Tabloid publications have already had a field day with rumours of ‘good behaviour clauses’ and apparent financial incentives, if there’s no larking about off the field and discipline on it.
Whether such speculation has substance is something of a moot point. Balotelli must behave if he is to make any substantial contribution to Rodgers’ team that are chasing trophies on four fronts this season.
The Reds boss referenced his Champions League pedigree, something that seldom applies to Daniel Sturridge right now and the stuff of fantasy for other striker Rickie Lambert as recently as 12 months ago. Balotelli spoke himself of his desire to fire Liverpool to club football’s richest prize, but will have to do his talking on the pitch.
Has he matured in Milan? For the record, he reportedly crashed his car, again, in Brescia last October. When Balotelli was at City, tabloid reporters and paparazzi stalked the enigmatic Italian’s every move; and now they hardly have to travel far to expose further antics.
Balotelli’s fame comes at the monumental price of his private life being front page news. This is neither the time nor the place to go into the ethics of that, but his every move will be watched like a hawk.
If extra attention garnered by Suarez’s misdemeanours, alleged racism as well as biting for both club and country, was unwelcome, then have Liverpool burdened themselves with something they potentially cannot handle?
Anfield’s dressing room will certainly have an interesting dynamic now; playboy Balotelli sitting beside rags to riches story Lambert living the dream at his boyhood club. This scenario alone almost makes you want to be a fly on the wall, not least because it’s these two competing for a starting spot when Rodgers plays two up top.
How will England attackers Daniel Sturridge, who like Balotelli wore Sky Blue before Red, and Raheem Sterling, a player that courts a similarly bad boy image from too much too soon, react? The more you think about it, the more you find yourself nodding in agreement with pundits who say this signing is a gamble.
But if you’re reading this, then chances are you’ve got an eye for the main chance, and punters can get odds of 25/1 on Balotelli being Premier League top scorer.
With Sturridge or Lambert alongside him, plus supply from fellow new boys Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno, up from left back, the maverick Rodgers has gambled one will have plenty of service. In fact, the list goes on.
Philippe Coutinho’s guile, the searing pace of Sterling, legs from Jordan Henderson and skipper Steven Gerrard’s dead ball and deep deliveries should give Balotelli all the ingredients necessary to replace Suarez as charged, but only if he gets his head down.
It’s about commitment to consistently performing, not just turning on the undoubted talent he possesses when he’s in the mood. Balotelli has the chance to be part of something big at Liverpool, but he’s not there simply to be a pet project of yet another coach.
Greater names in the game than Rodgers have tried to get the best out of him, so that will present its own challenges. A truly tough test of the Northern Irishman’s man management skills awaits, but it’s one he must want to take on, despite saying just three weeks before bringing Balotelli in he would not be coming to Anfield.
But he’s here now, so why always him? Balotelli stands centre stage once again and Liverpool will have to find ways of coping with the public glare that goes with him.