On Monday Mario Balotelli arrived at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground to finalise his £16 million move to Merseyside from AC Milan.
While his arrival might be lauded by those keen to see the return of the characterful Italian, who spent a famous and incident-filled spell at fellow Premier League side Manchester City from August 2010 to January 2013, others have questioned the integration of the front man into Brendan Rodger’s side. One such example is Liverpool legend Graeme Souness, who asserted that press attention and occasionally raucous behaviour might affect the balance and calmness surrounding last years league runners-up as they aim to go one better this season. For Balotelli, though, a move to Liverpool may provide an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of both British and world football.
Balotelli’s talent is, however, undeniable. The regular first-choice for Italy’s national team totalled 30 goals in 54 appearances during his time at AC Milan and has consistently commanded fees in excess of €20 million throughout a career which has often been characterised by his antics both on and off the field.
His off-field actions, however, often seem to be borne out of a childlike exuberance or of good intentions – reports of such incidents as setting his bathroom aflame with an errant firework were often matched with those of dropping large sums of money in the hats of Manchester’s homeless. This innocence and spontaneity has often made him popular with his teammates, leading to pundits who played with him at Manchester City to come to his defence; former colleague Shay Given called his move to Liverpool “a great deal” and predicted the Italian would “make an instant impact”. Similarly, respected figures in Italian football have publicly assured that his character has developed, most notably midfielder Andrea Pirlo who said “Mario has matured since he has been back in Italy. Anybody who still talks about him in that way is living in the past.”
Balotelli’s arrival might be considered a surprise given that Brendan Rodgers has only recently been relieved of the similarly divisive figure of Luis Suarez, who left Anfield for Barcelona after biting Balotelli’s Italy teammate Giorgio Chiellini (the third such incident of his career). Balotelli, though, has substantially decreased the frequency of on-field incidents in his game, so while in the past he may have demonstrated an unfortunate and occasionally costly naivety and a propensity to pick up unnecessary red cards, his decision-making and temper have visibly improved as his career has progressed.
While the Italian striker’s highly-publicised arrival might cause people to assume he is a replacement for the departing Suarez, there are significant differences in their respective games which provide Liverpool a different predictable option. The vision and fluid movement of Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge appears likely to replace the endeavour of Suarez’s contribution to build-up play, and Balotelli may yetprove an effective strike partner to fellow newcomer Rickie Lambert, whose knock-downs and through-balls left him creating the second-highest number of goal scoring chances (behind only Suarez) during last season, and clocking up an impressive nine assists.
While Balotelli’s impending arrival at Liverpool is a tantalising prospect for Premier League fans keen to find what fresh intrigue he brings to the English game, it remains to be seen if, for Liverpool fans, he might demonstrate the heightened maturity to truly prove a fruitful acquisition. Aware of the attention surrounding his transfer, Balotelli appears buoyed by the reactions of his new fans, stating “I can see the expectation in people. They’re very happy and that makes me happy.” Only time will tell whether Balotelli’s return to the Premier League is a successful one, however for the moment Brendan Rodgers clearly believes signing the unpredictable Italian to be a chance worth taking.
How might Liverpool ensure Balotelli’s tenure at the club remains controversy-free?