• Premier League

Balotelli's approach upsets Liverpool team-mates

Ian Darke | ESPN FC
October 7, 2014
Liverpool better without Balotelli?

Mario Balotelli has been on Merseyside for only a few weeks and already he has found himself out of the Liverpool and Italy teams. Sources have told me that some of his team-mates at Anfield are none too impressed by his individualistic approach.

It does not sound as if manager Brendan Rodgers is doing cartwheels of delight either. "He is not hitting the numbers he would have liked in terms of goals" was his response to a return of just one so far.

Rodgers has been banging on to journalists about Liverpool's need to improve as a team. Asked why in that case he bought a player hardly renowned for his team ethic, his reply was both telling and damning: "It was a question of availability and affordability at a late stage in the window."

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Translated, that would seem to suggest Liverpool bought Balotelli almost as a last resort. (Remember their plan to sign Loic Remy rather mysteriously broke down at the last moment, and he went to Chelsea eventually.)

The question for any manager and club signing Balotelli must be: "Is he worth the bother?"

High maintenance only starts to describe Balotelli, for whom the next headline is always only moments away.

"Why always me?" he famously asked on his t-shirt after scoring for Manchester City in the 6-1 win at Old Trafford in 2011.

Why indeed ?

Mario Balotelli came in for criticism after his performance in Basel © Getty Images

Nobody minds Mario daring to be different. There is nothing in his contract about conformity. The real issue was put into sharp perspective recently by former England manager Glenn Hoddle. He conceded that this maverick talent is capable of match-winning moments, but is more likely to be anonymous in matches. "He can be an 8 or 9 out of 10 man," argued Hoddle, "but far too often he is a 4 or 5".

Clearly, Rodgers felt compelled to act after Balotelli's negligible contribution in the Champions League defeat at Basel. He was replaced by Rickie Lambert for Saturday's much-needed win against West Brom. This, in plain language, was no more or less than a kick up the backside for his 'star striker'.

But is Balotelli really the star we all are persuaded to believe? Or is he, as Joey Barton argues, "well over-rated" and rather too enchanted by his own celebrity status? His transfer fee of £16 million seems a fair assessment. In other words, about a fifth as good as £75m Luis Suarez (does Rodgers enjoy managing bad boys?).

Balotelli spent a lot of time wearing out the bench at City, and needs to make sure the same does not happen at Anfield once Daniel Sturridge is fit. That means keeping a low profile and putting in the hard yards to win over his new team-mates and manager.

So far a few are not convinced.

All the evidence so far in his career suggests that asking Balotelli to keep his head down is rather like expecting Mick Jagger to start singing ballads. But he is at a club with little room for egos, going back to the Boot Room days when even the top names had to wear a smelly unwashed shirt if voted as the worst player in training that week.

Balotelli has to blend in better or his stay in Liverpool could end in tears. He could start by wearing a club tracksuit like every other player in trips to away games. A few goals wouldn't hurt, either.

This article originally appeared on ESPN FC

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