EARLIER in the week, Brendan Rodgers described how Mario Balotelli had worked ‘like a lion’ in training during the international break, writes KAMURAN KULAVUZ.
I’ve looked into some of the traits associated with the lion and have picked out several holes in the manager’s claim.
Lions like to scavenge — often on animals already deceased through disease or injury. They do what, in footballing terms, would be called poaching, which usually entails remaining in and around the box, feeding on scraps, half chances and any fortuitous bobbles or deflections that may come your way, in order to score goals.
At other times, lions hunt in a group, surrounding their prey, until they have no means of escape, and are taken down as part of a team effort. In footballing terms, this would be a fast counter attack involving the forward-thinking players moving the ball across the pitch at speed in order to break through a stricken defensive line. It wouldn’t, however, entail hugging the left touchline, lazily dangling a leg to perform what can only be described as an arthritic step-over, then cutting inside to produce a scuffed or — dare I say it, tame (pun intended) — shot at goal.
Despite the army of brave faces being put on it, the most worrying thing about this season was always how we would replace Luis Suarez. Arguably the most industrious forward in world football, it was evident that we needed someone with a similar verve to replicate the intensity of the tail end of last season. Many thought Daniel Sturridge would take up the slack left in the leash now that his former rabid strike partner was no longer straining at it. In terms of influence maybe he can come close, but it’s impossible to count him as Liverpool’s main striker when most of his leg muscles seem to be made of silly string.
So we turned to Mario Balotelli — a player with a certain track record for being one of the least industrious strikers in world football. It isn’t that he lacks ability; it’s just that sporadic flashes of genius aren’t really enough to warrant a place in any top team.
Brendan Rodgers has suggested he only signs players who will put the team above their own ego. It seems bizarre then that Balotelli would even be considered as a potential signing. In his appearances so far, he has cut an increasingly forlorn figure, intent on shooting no matter the distance or angle. More worrying, he seems unable to spot players in a better position than himself and even his teammates began to show disenchantment with his contribution on Sunday.
Readjustment to the Premier League — and to new teammates — is a consideration but this pattern of misfiring isn’t something that’s only occurred following his transfer. Balotelli had the worst conversion rate in Europe last season among leading strikers, a measly 13.3 per cent. Many would say that a total of 14 goals is nothing to be sniffed at, but the 152 shots taken to achieve that haul reveal a bigger picture.
The Italian’s confidence is painfully low and you can see that in his body language from the moment he takes to the pitch. He’s a player that seems to crave constant praise and you can see the tension in his play right now. Balotelli’s figures now read one Premier League goal in 26 and one assist in 60. In his last 20 Premier League appearances he’s had 39 shots and scored one — a conversion rate of 2.6 per cent.
Should he be dropped? That could dent individual confidence but benefit the collective. Or do Liverpool stick with him in the hope that he can find some form and ready himself to build a partnership with Sturridge once he returns?
Brendan Rodgers described Balotelli as a “calculated gamble we had to try and work with” earlier this month. The Italian almost certainly wasn’t his first-choice option, meaning he has even more of a task to win over the coaching staff. It can be done, as Henderson and Flanagan have proved. But even at the tender age of 24, it very much seems that Balotelli is drinking at the last chance saloon.
If it doesn’t work out at Anfield, if the balance of risk-reward tips too far towards the former, what big club would pay good money to once again spin the Balotelli roulette wheel with another poor reference on his CV? The likelihood is that the only way would be down; sideways at a push.
Silvio Berlusconi (surprise surprise) claimed “selling Balotelli was better business than buying Kaka and Seedorf”. The views of Jose Mourinho are well documented. Eventually the mud will stick.
Even Roberto Mancini — the man who once described Balotelli as “like one of my children” — said earlier this month: “Mario is a good guy, but he is aware that Liverpool is probably his final opportunity to prove what he can do on the pitch. It’s his last chance.”
Real Madrid await, and surely there is no better occasion for Balotelli to step up to the plate than during Anfield’s biggest European night in five years. If he remains in the team, there should be no greater incentive than the roar of the Kop to bring the lion out of its slumber. Maybe a goal of significance will fire the spark that seems to be missing from his performances so far.
Publicly some, including Jamie Carragher, have insisted that we start with Sterling in a false nine role at Balotelli’s expense. Speed on the counter could well be the key to unlocking the Madrid defence. But the unpredictability of Balotelli will still worry defenders. Despite everything, he still has it in his fabric to deliver in big games — think Euro 2012.
SPORT – Jamie Carragher is calling on Brendan Rodgers to drop Mario Balotelli for #Liverpool's game with Real Madrid pic.twitter.com/kaRQc29uFz
— Radio City News (@RadioCityNews) October 21, 2014
One of the most humbling facts going into this fixture is that so far this season, in the league and Europe, Cristiano Ronaldo has a goal every 2.94 shots, compared to Balotelli’s single goal in 28. Rodgers will have to gauge whether Mario still has the backing of his teammates. If they don’t trust their man up top, they go into every fixture mentally hindered rather than helped by what was billed as Liverpool’s chief goal supplier in the absence of Sturridge and Suarez.
Brendan Rodgers has worked hard to instill a sense of collective responsibility based on a meritocracy. If he continues to play ball with Balotelli — and his performances do not pick up — that could quickly be undermined.
At the moment, Liverpool as a whole make for uncomfortable viewing; I am by no means pinning the blame solely on the Italian. But things need to change drastically, or he could face being left out in the cold.
The truth is, if this ‘lion’ doesn’t roar soon it could quickly become a tiger… A Hull City Tiger.
Haha. What’s interesting is, when you said Hull I thought ‘no chance’. Trying to think where he could go after us and it doesn’t get that much better than Hull. In some ways his persona is bigger than his skill set. What I mean is, on Sunday I saw a side to Balotelli that I haven’t seen yet. He didn’t celebrate the goals aside from a clench of the fist. He didn’t look part of the team and even worse he seemed to be doing his team mates heads in. He also appeared stubborn and uninterested at times. Not someone I’d want playing for LFC. But then, I was discussing tomorrows match with some mates today and much as I favour Carra’s point about Sterling, when Lambert and Borini were mentioned I looked at them like they were mad. Play them before Balotelli? No thanks. Truth is, there’s a case they could offer more. I just can’t entertain the idea though. Point being, I’ve seen what Balotelli can do (meaning hardly anything) and I still feel he’s too good to drop. He clearly isn’t but it’s that part of my psyche that tells me Lambert and Borini are wank-ish and Balotelli is a top player.
So I think his reputation (as a good footballer) supercedes him a bit. Basically, he’s not as good as people think. Certainly not what we need. In saying that I’m desperate for him to succeed. Not just for the clubs sake but for his. I’d really warmed to him before Sunday. So, all I can say is, deep down I want him to start. I feel this game is made for him (even though underneath I know it’s not). I think it’s just that eternal hope.
Play Balotelli with Sterling as the two forwards with Lallana (or Coutinho, according to the training pitch) at the top of a diamond featuring Henderson and Allen in front of Gerrard. We lose Sterling’s contributions elsewhere, but give Madrid a lot to think about on the break. Lallana, Allen, and Henderson are all top class at pressing and we could get a chance to cut off the supply line for Ronaldo, et al. Keep it tight, control the midfield, hope that Alberto finds the balance between attack and defense.
Perhaps most importantly, that midfield can provide a lot of energy – something we’ve been sorely lacking in every game except Tottenham. But I also think Balotelli needs someone to play off, and Sterling could prove a worthy fill-in for Sturridge on current form.
Spot on there Robin! I’m sure that for a lot of us it was a case of hope and wishful thinking when we signed him.
He seems to have been around for a few years but has the unfortunate habit of falling out with somebody just as he begins to show some promise of realising his potential.Although I have to say that falling out with Mancini shouldn’t really go down as a black mark in anybody’s book.
Then I look at his stats;154 games,3428 shots,1 goal and 0 assists and start to feel sorry for him!
Well not really,but I can’t help erring on the side of wishful thinking.Surely a career that started with so much promise doesn’t just gradually fade away? I mean I could reel off any number of players who were heralded as the next Zidane or Messi after few games but then consigned to oblivion almost overnight.But Balotelli seems to have been tipped for stardom for the past 5 or 6 years.
Anyway,I think I’ll give him one last chance:after all there are 11 players in a team and most of the others haven’t really got going yet.
If they do,maybe “In the jungle,the mighty jungle,the lion won’t sleep tomorrow night!”
Haha, let’s hope not. Can’t help feeling it will be more of a case of Ronaldo and his mates in the dressing room after the game singing ‘a win away, a win away, a win away, a win away’.
Actually, I’m expecting us to raise our game whatever the outcome.
Tell ya what Bri, I fully respected Houllier at first and when he told us he’d signed the ‘new Zidane’ I was ecstatic. When Cheyrou took to the pitch in those white boots I knew then that this was something special. Now, if I ever hear someone telling me he’s the ‘new anyone’ I simply turn away in disgust.
Sterling may well be the best call. Right now though, we don’t have any strikers that we can start in a Premier League match and expect them to make a meaningful contribution. They are either injured, past it or just not good enough.
I would rather see lads from the Academy get their chance. The fans would be totally behind them and a lot more forgiving. Right now, opposition players seem to know exactly what our forwards are going to do and have no problem finding an answer to them.
I would expect our Academy youngsters to at least show speed, movement and (if we are lucky) anticipation. They are also in the habit of finding the net. Maybe they won’t be good enough, but now is the perfect time to find out, as things can’t get much worse up front.
They might just cause problems for a couple of months, before defenders begin to work out the limitations of their game. At least that would get us through to January, although I would not be surprised if we make another poor choice in the transfer market during the next window.
It’s obviously still a gamble, but none of our other options seem any better. Starting the next game with Mario would be a mistake.
This could well be Mario’s last chance in the last chance saloon (since when did I ever think Liverpool FC would be called that?).
If he can’t get his A game together for this match then it’s probably time to give up on him and look to the ranks.
It’s not a good situation when we have 4 strikers at the club, our main ones injured and the next option is to play Sterling up front. I mean, what’s the point of the other 3?!
Rodgers didn’t like the target man, he sold Carroll immediately, but this summer we spent £20mil on 2 target men and nether are or were exactly prolific?? What’s the thinking behind that??
Take away Balotellis dead ball goals over the last 2 seasons while at Milan and he has only scored 15 goals from open play. He’s not a great worker either so what exactly did we see in him?
Sell on value. Becoming crystal clear Balotelli was bought by the transfer committee.
Rodgers said in July “I can categorically say Balotelli won’t be here.”
That exactly what I’m thinking Chris but isn’t Rodgers meant to have final say. Not sure much that’s inforced. Whatever it is our transfer policy does not work!