Against the wishes of many Liverpool supporters, Mario Balotelli will be reporting for pre-season training at Melwood over the weekend.
The enigmatic Italian has been told by Klopp that he must start pre-season with the rest of the available squad members despite the underlying desire to sell. As Mario once again steps foot on the Melwood turf, social media is awash with the usual cries for him to ‘never step foot at our club again’ or ‘maybe he will improve under Klopp’. Both of those opinions are extreme.
Balotelli is a player of tremendous quality; somebody who can create magic in the muggle world; yet we don’t get to see it very often at all. In 26 appearances for the Reds in the 2014/15 season, the net bulged only 4 times after leaving Mario’s boot. That is a goal every 6.5 games, a shocking ratio for a Liverpool centre forward.
It didn’t get any better this season either. Playing for AC Milan, on loan from Liverpool, Balotelli only managed 3 goals in 23 appearances. Admittedly he suffered from various injuries throughout the campaign but taking more than 7 games per goal is an awful level of frequency.
However it isn’t his goal scoring exploits, or rather lack of them that garners the increasing levels of criticism. With Mario comes baggage, and I’m talking a large, long-term family trip worth of baggage. Forget hand luggage, the cost of baggage needed to reflect what comes along with Mario is almost the cost of the holiday itself. His off the pitch antics and tantrums is his worst quality.
From feigning a training ground injury to buy the latest iPhone, to setting fireworks off in his house, Balotelli causes trouble. It’s not the worst kind of trouble. It doesn’t embroil the club in clouds of racism a la Suarez but it becomes a massive problem when the player isn’t performing on the pitch.
Luis Suarez, for all his issues, delivered on the pitch. He made the fan base forget about the trouble that seemed to follow him round. With Mario, his performances only add to the annoyance. When supporters see players earning huge sums of money and not delivering, it becomes incredibly frustrating but when that player doesn’t even seem to care, it becomes unforgivable.
This leads nicely onto Mario’s on pitch annoyance. He doesn’t care. Or at least he doesn’t seem to. Under Klopp, Liverpool are becoming a high energy, pressing from the front side. Even under Brendan Rodgers there was still a certain level of energy and pressing needed.
In all honesty, can you see Mario Balotelli pressing? Giving his absolute all to chase back if needed? I can’t. Whenever I watch him, he seems to amble about hoping his team mates do the dirty work. Then he wants to receive the ball around 25 yards out, turns, shoots and usually hits somewhere between row L and Z. It just isn’t good enough.
The final nail in the coffin is down to the quality we already have at the club. Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi, Danny Ings and Roberto Firmino (if required) are all much better equipped to the central striking role than Balotelli. Sturridge, although not an incredibly high energy player, is wonderfully gifted in front of goal. His record at the club speaks for itself – faster to hit 50 goals than Fowler, Rush and Suarez.
Origi has developed ridiculously swiftly under Klopp. Willing to press and run but also improving in his finishing has led to Origi challenging Sturridge for the number 1 striking rank. Then there is Ings. It’s a real shame he suffered such a horrible injury, but he showed in the games before then that he has the skills to fit into the system perfectly. Even Firmino, who I think is better behind the striker, slotted into the side when needed and chipped in with goals. Could anyone honestly see Balotelli offering more than those mentioned?
The sad truth is that Balotelli’s time at the club should be over. I don’t hate the guy or think he is a stain on our great club, but he just isn’t good enough often enough. With the tactical approach we are going to have, Mario doesn’t fit in. If the perplexing Italian could really get his head down, work hard and mature, somebody will receive a very talented footballer. Unfortunately, I just can’t see that being Liverpool.
Written by Sean White