With Super Mario set to make his Liverpool debut at Tottenham on Sunday, we asked five experts for their take on the transfer...
Matt Barker (Italian football expert)
When I interviewed Mario Balotelli for FourFourTwo last year, he declared that “I went to Manchester as a boy and I came back as a man.” Signing for Milan, his childhood team, was a big deal for him. However, once he got there he found a club in a downward spiral, selling off its assets to prop up Silvio Berlusconi’s waning business empire.
Playing alongside teenagers like Stephan El Shaarawy and M'Baye Niang taught Balotelli a lot and brought out that new maturity he was referring to (on the pitch, at least). Often a rare Milan bright spot, there was a generosity to his play, creating space and chances for his fellow strikers.
So, you can see Balotelli linking up well with Daniel Sturridge, and you can certainly see him enjoying a mutual love-in with the Kop. The one big downside I can see to the move is traffic-related. “I hate the stupid way you’re expected to drive over there,” he moaned during that interview. Hmm. I wonder when Mario will have his first experience of the Edge Lane dual carriageway...
David Hall (FourFourTwo Editor)
Mario Balotelli has been through the ringer a bit of late. Milan's poor showing last season was followed by a similarly disappointing Brazilian sojourn by the Italian national team, the latter providing the jumping-off point for an entire nation to lay into Mario. Truth be told, he couldn't wait to get out of Italy, so if nothing else, Liverpool have received a very grateful player.
It’s fairly obvious that there is a very, very good striker in there somewhere but I believe Balotelli has never come under the wing of the right manager. I think Brendan Rodgers, who’s already shown his aptitude for handling talented but problematic players, could be the right man. True, the master Jose Mourinho was Balotelli’s boss at Inter Milan, but he was a mere teenager back then. This is a more experienced, battle-hardened Balotelli arriving at Anfield. I think if he can settle well in the city, Liverpool will clean up on the pitch.
Michael Cox (Tactical expert)
Brendan Rodgers probably needs to forget about ‘taming’ Mario Balotelli – if that was ever going to happen, it would have been at Milan, Balotelli’s boyhood club. In truth, despite making so many headlines, Balotelli has never experienced a genuinely top-class full campaign. He performs well in short bursts, and occasionally looks like a world-beater – but he’s not someone who consistently turns in quality performances. Therefore, he won’t be guaranteed a start at Liverpool, which could be troublesome considering his fiery attitude.
He’s also rather selfish with the ball – although something similar was true of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge before their move to Anfield – and is unlikely to fit into Rodgers’ pressing game. For that reason, he’ll probably be most effective as a wildcard in big games, and used primarily to destroy smaller teams, something he was excellent at in his 18-month period at Milan. Balotelli will certainly be useful, but he won’t be the player who wins Liverpool the league.
Simon Curtis (Writer and Man City fan)
Liverpool fans will know exactly what to expect from Mario Balotelli, but it's still quite a scene when he delivers. That slope-shouldered amble away from the football wreckage he has just caused, wearing the effortlessly innocent look of the ultimate scamp. It might follow a hugely untimely red card just as they're getting on top in a crucial Champions League game, or it could accompany a goal deliberately dispatched with the shoulder or the heel.
Can the boy in the man's body take responsibility for the giant Suarez-sized gap in Liverpool's front-line? Are Liverpool really trying to replace the quasi-irreplaceable Uruguayan with Mario, or merely trying to maintain a high media profile? How difficult are Liverpool's bibs to get into? Does the city have a high-profile fire safety campaign frontman? What do the Anfield staff treat the grass with? Will the Rodgers matchday dress code stretch to hats made out of bin bags? Clearly, as usual, Mario arrives with more questions than answers and that's just how it is meant to be. Box office hit, football miss.
Paul Tomkins (Writer and Liverpool fan)
The Balotelli of Euro 2012 – big, strong, skilful, quick, determined – was worth £50 million. The one who played his final season at City – sulky, uninterested, belligerent – looked barely worth 50p. Given his age and potential, £16m still seems a bargain, particularly as the least he’ll be worth in a year is £12m, based on The Shane Long Scale of Transfer Logic. So in some ways it’s almost like a loan: low-risk, providing he is isn’t allowed to destabilise a united squad.
Some players never seem to grow up, but at 24 it’s time for him to show maturity and knuckle down. His goalscoring record with Milan was excellent, albeit with the aid of a fair few penalties. He remains a gamble, but for all his own erratic behaviour, at that price it could have been mad to not even try. He’ll do well… for a while, at least.