Liverpool is trading one supremely gifted, supremely volatile striker for another. And it just may lead them to win the Premier League or go down in a blaze of glory. There is no middle ground with Mario Balotelli.
Liverpool finally sold Luis Suarez after biting off more they can chew in their attempt to save soccer’s most controversial superstar. All summer long, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has looked to use the massive funds from Suarez’s 65 million pound sale to Barcelona to spend on a big-name striker. Liverpool have been linked with Falcao, Cavani, Reus and numerous others. But there was always one name floating in the transfer window gossip that was the most enticing. And now he’s coming to Anfield.
“Super” Mario Balotelli is on his way to Liverpool. AC Milan have confirmed the striker’s departure and all signs are that a fee of 16 million pounds has been agreed between the two clubs.
Like Suarez, Balotelli is known for his volatile outbursts. Thankfully, none of them have involved trying to take a chunk of flesh out of the opposing team. However, they have involved conflicts with his manager, training ground bustups, fireworks, darts, and everything but the kitchen sink.
And who could forget this during his Manchester City days?
Although Balotelli has had his off-field incidents and disciplinary issues, his goalscoring record has been impressive since his move from City to Milan. He scored 12 goals in 13 games in the 2012-2013 season. Last year he tallied 14 goals in 30 appearances. Even more encouraging for Liverpool is Balotelli’s performances in big games. One only has to look at the Euro 2012 semifinal to see the evidence of what Super Mario is capable of producing against top competition.
And the fact that Rodgers got Balotelli for such a cut rate could be seen as one of the masterstroke transfers of the century. It’s little risk for a potentially huge reward. To put that 16 million pound number in perspective, Southampton just bought Shane Long from West Bromwich Albion, who has never scored more than 8 goals in a Premier League season, for a rumored 12 million pounds.
Balotelli is the ultimate boom-or-bust proposition, but there’s more than a few signs that Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool can be the perfect fit for him.
For starters, the manager and the team have shown a unique ability to get the most production out of European soccer outcasts. Philippe Coutinho’s career was going nowhere at Inter Milan when he was sold for 8.5 million pounds. At Liverpool, Coutinho has grown into one of the most influential players in the Premier League and earned a Brazil call-up. Similarly, Daniel Sturridge was on the outside looking in at Chelsea as a bright, young English attacker struggling to break into the first team. At Liverpool he’s scored more league goals in 2 years (32) than his previous 7 seasons combined (26) and become one of the EPL’s top scorers.
Furthermore, Suarez’s record-setting production is evidence that Rodgers can get the most out of volatile personalities. Suarez was a tremendous talent at Ajax, but it was at Liverpool where he became one of the world’s best players. As long as Rodgers can harness Super Mario’s talents in the same way (while making sure he doesn’t completely lose his mind) the potential for big things is strikingly similar.
These are the kinds of strikes Balotelli can pull off…
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 21, 2014
There’s only a handful of strikers in the Premier League, and in the whole of world soccer, who are capable of creating that kind of genius.
Liverpool were the most entertaining team in the Premier League last season, maybe in any season in recent memory. Their opening performance against Southampton failed to rekindle that magic. Brendan Rodgers played two holding midfielders with Steven Gerrard and Lucas playing behind the likes of Henderson, Coutinho, Sturridge, and Sterling. The result was a much slower pace of play from a team that was renown for its quick strike capabilities last year.
Balotelli’s addition changes that immediately.
His signing will produce more excitement for Liverpool fans and fans of the Premier League than all of Rodgers’ other signings combined. Not that Alberto Moreno and Adam Lallana and Emre Can won’t become key members of a Liverpool squad that needed strengthening ahead of a Champions League campaign, but none brings the sizzle and the steak that Super Mario can.
With Balotelli and Sturridge playing up front alongside one another, we might very well see Rodgers move back to the 4-4-2 diamond midfield that was a revelation during last year’s campaign that drove them to second place. While there’s no like-for-like replacement for Luis Suarez, Balotelli provides the pace, skill, and eccentricity that is as close as the Reds could get. His partnership with Sturridge, with creative players like Sterling, Coutinho, Henderson, Gerrard, and Lallana playing behind will ensure Liverpool’s attack doesn’t miss a beat.
One thing’s for sure, the Premier League season just got a lot more intriguing and exciting with Balotelli back in the mix. And if he debuts for Liverpool at the Etihad against Manchester City, the sparks may just fly immediately.