Brendan Rodgers has reportedly given Mario Balotelli two months to prove himself, but Neil Humphreys reckons the striker's Anfield misadventure was doomed from the start.
Mario Balotelli is the guest star on an episode of CSI. He’s the guy who always pops up in the prologue, informing loved ones that he will be home safely before mayhem ensues. Whether he plays victim or villain, it rarely ends well. His fate is sealed the moment his name appears in the opening credits.
The knockdown price of £16 million was not a risk, but a further waste of resources, another example of Liverpool’s tendency to overpay for underperforming potential
Balotelli is the special guest star of professional football. Dramatic, enigmatic and occasionally captivating, he commands attention and steals the odd scene but knows he’ll always be written out of his own narrative in the end. He never makes the epilogue. He’s a firework of a footballer, blazing brightly before fizzling quietly.
Everyone knows this. The Liverpool forward is lazily described as combustible and dangerously unpredictable, when the opposite is true. He’s the metronome of mischief, a model of consistent negativity. Entirely dependable and always unflappable, Balotelli is the Bobby Moore of bad behavior (possibly the only time those two will be mentioned in the same sentence.) The Italian always delivers. You can set your watch by him being wayward or woeful.
To feign ignorance now is right up there with giving Charlie Sheen the keys to the Playboy Mansion and then expressing shock at him working the room like a sex-addicted rabbit. This is what Balotelli does. He’s an incorrigible recidivist in a red shirt (until half-time of a Champions League game, when he decides to swap it for a Real Madrid one, just because he can, or he was bored, or he thought the white was a more flattering look, or whatever. The internal machinations of Balotelli’s decision-making process must be something quite extraordinary to behold, like an explosion in a paint factory.)
Fourth time's the charm, surely
Three managers conceded defeat to the Liverpool striker (after one goal in 10 games, that’s a generous description. He’s more of a Liverpool “personality”, sharing the attributes of a local artiste, DJ or comedian who make special appearances at Anfield before kick-off.) Roberto Mancini, Cesare Prandelli and Jose Mourinho are past masters of motivation, but were worn down by the prince of indifference. Mancini treated Balotelli with a level of patience and reverence usually reserved for a gifted, rebellious son. He thought there was a confused soul worth saving. The striker disabused his father figure twice.
But Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool’s dubious transfer committee knew better. They inflated Balotelli’s talent and downplayed his ego. They projected their own instead. Rodgers fancied himself as the lion-tamer cracking the whip and shoving a wooden chair in the direction of the man with the Mohawk. He could tame that temperament. He took the title race to the final day of last season. Rodgers was the deliverer of miracles. He would break Balotelli.
Had he not seen this travelling circus before? Balotelli roars, reigns and quickly runs away. He’s a novelty act with a limited shelf life, but at least he’s a timely diversion. No one wants to talk about anything else right now. When Rodgers was asked several questions about his striker, he retorted: “Is this the Mario Balotelli press conference?”
If the record is broken, the familiar sound should at least be soothing. While attention focuses on the bright, hairy sideshow, the big top is at risk of imploding. Liverpool’s transfer committee lavished more than £100 million on midrange players who jog along the fringes of mediocrity and inconsistency. Their campaign is built on a defence communicating with the clarity of blindfolded semaphore flag wavers. Their midfield misses the cohesion and vision of Chelsea, Manchester City and even Manchester United and the club lack fit strikers beyond Balotelli and Rickie Lambert, whose Cinderella story is destined to end with him not going anywhere near a ball again.
Rodgers—Not such a transfer master after all?
Balotelli’s predictable petulance masks the deeper sins of others. He was a panic buy. Discounted items are not reduced because owners are suddenly struck down by philanthropy. They want them off the shelf before they pass their sell-by date and possibly contaminate others. The knockdown price of £16 million was not a risk, but a further waste of resources, another example of Liverpool’s tendency to overpay for underperforming potential.
Rodgers can no longer live off the transfer successes of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho back in January 2013. Nor can he hide behind Balotelli’s misdemeanors.
If anything, the manager’s sudden decision to play ‘bad cop’ and publicly demand an improvement in attitude misreads the unsettled player he vows to win over. Balotelli looks a lost man desperately seeking an exit.
The latest allegation that he “threatened” a woman for taking photographs of his Ferrari once again hints at a damaged soul either unwilling or simply incapable of calm, cool-headed compromise.
Either way, Rodgers’ rueful headshaking smacks of insincerity. He never signed Little Bo Peep and can’t pretend otherwise. He bought a reliable explosive device and now finds himself holding the detonator.
Neil Humphreys is the best-selling author of football novels Match Fixer and Premier Leech, which was the FourFourTwo Football Novel of the Year. You can find his website right here.