Mario Balotelli has signed to Liverpool in a £16m transfer. His new coach, Brendan Rodgers, famous for his tactical and tough mental coaching skills, told Sky Sports on Monday, “Look at the talent. He’s at a stage in his career where this is his chance… He needs to be consistent, and if he can do that he will be one hell of a player.” When asked what was his first thought after the long and strenuous process that finalized in just over three hours, Rodgers response behind a calculated smirk was simply, “Trouble.”
Brought in to replace Luis Suárez, who inked a deal of his own to play in Barcelona for a whopping £75m, the Balotelli addition makes Rodgers’ squad look even more incredible. With returning players Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Lazar Marković, and Adam Lallana playing alongside Balotelli, the ceiling appears to be limitless. After all, Balotelli is a highly rated soccer player who is considered to be one of the world’s best strikers on the field. However, as anyone who has ever been excited to hear news of their favorite player or team knows, appearances can sometimes be deceiving.
A player does not get signed in a “long-term” contract with Liverpool unless they have something special. Balotelli has just that. His record, as it stands currently, is 30 goals in 54 games played for AC Milan. He has assisted in bringing four league titles to England, has won them in Italy, and was one of the six players recently nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award for the second year in a row. A resume that few will ever be able to claim in a lifetime, let alone in less than 25 years. As astounding as all of these accolades are, they have not always been the topic of water cooler discussions surrounding the player.
The stories, allegations, and various rumors that have followed the 24-year-old Balotelli were a major concern before the £16m transfer decision to Liverpool. Coach Rodgers takes what he does pretty seriously, and has expressed strong trepidations about acquiring another player who marches to the beat of his own drum, having had such issues with Suárez. Balotetti, or “Super Mario” as many fans have dubbed him, likes to have fun, and play around…a lot. There was the $400,000 firework incident (where the rebellious athlete decided it was a good idea to light off several fireworks in his own bathroom), tossing throwing darts at a few of City’s youth team players, internal squabbles with teammates, and getting hitting with sloppy red cards in several matches. Yes, Balotelli has been involved in some pretty silly things on and off the field, but he is also just starting to enter his prime. With some time and patience, the maturity will come. This is partly what his coach meant when he said “Trouble.” Those who are familiar with Rodgers teaching style and learning curve know that he has implemented the same specific philosophy for years. For him, it is one that works.
“If you were to look back at my coaching career, even when I was just a youth coach, it is all I have ever worked with. People who know me well enough will certainly tell you that I make it an effort to try and develop the player, as well as the person. If I truly feel that someone cares about the sport enough, I will give them everything I got. You know, we have a certain culture that builds talent and gives them the opportunity to blossom, and nothing should stand in the way of that. As long as they show they care, are determined, and want to develop themselves as individuals, we can give them the opportunity to do so,” says Rogers.
Balotelli, who famously unveiled a t-shirt with the words ‘Why always me?’ written on it, seems ready to turn the corner and embrace the next chapter of his £16m transfer deal in Liverpool. Motivated by players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, he hopes to silence his critics, but in order for that to happen, there is no short cut for hard work and focus. There have been moments of sheer brilliance in the young player’s 88 goals in 220 matches for Internazionale, Manchester City, AC Milan, and scoring a game-winning kick at the most recent World Cup. Hopefully, there will be many more moments like those for fans of the Reds.
Commentary by Theodore Borders