I devoted an article at the end of last week to the indifferent form of Mario Balotelli, but I’m afraid I couldn’t go a full seven days without discussing the Italian again.
The trigger for a second Balotelli article is, of course, the antics that took place at Anfield on Wednesday evening as Liverpool faced off against European Champions Real Madrid.
After his poor performance against QPR, it was something of a surprise to see the forward named in the starting line-up for a game that was likely to be one of the trickiest of Liverpool’s season, but one suspects that the selection was intended to galvanise Balotelli.
In reality, it appeared to do nothing of the sort, with Balotelli putting in the same disinterested and abject performance that has characterised his second spell in England so far.
In the end, Adam Lallana was brought on in Balotelli’s stead during the halftime interval, with the Italian not emerging to even sit on the bench in the second half.
Brendan Rodgers assured the media in his post-match press conference that the switch was purely of a tactical nature, and that may well be the case; but what was even more intriguing was the fact that Balotelli was spotted swapping shirts with Real defender Pepe as the two walked down the tunnel at the end of the first half.
In the past, Brendan Rodgers has made it clear that this isn’t a practice that he approves of, and he confirmed this once again in his comments to the media, saying, “It’s something that doesn’t happen here, and shouldn’t happen here”.
While it is perhaps fair enough for Rodgers to highlight his displeasure at Balotelli’s behaviour, one has to question the wisdom of this kind of public disapproval. What is clear is that the Italian has not fitted in overly well at Anfield so far. With only a solitary goal, and none in the league, there remain massive question marks over whether or not the forward is the man required to help Liverpool stay in the top four and challenge for domestic and European honours.
If Balotelli has proved anything in his career so far, it is that he needs careful managing, and so far it doesn’t seem like Rodgers is doing a great job. For a man who places a massive emphasis on squad togetherness and a ‘team is first’ type mentality, his treatment of Balotelli is worrying at best. At worst, it’s stupid.
Alarm bells starting ringing at the beginning of this month, as Rodgers seemed to suggest that the Italian was a last resort, and that he had only been purchased because the Reds had failed to secure their other targets. While this may be true, it seems a very odd thing for a manager to stress in the press, just weeks after signing a player.
Now to add to this, Rodgers has made it clear that he will “deal with” Balotelli in relation to his shirt-swapping antics, suggesting further fallout to come.
If Balotelli’s career to date tells us anything, it’s that a manager needs to treat him carefully and treat him well. If we look at the way that Cesare Prandelli made him the focal point of the Italian team and the way that Roberto Mancini got the very best out of him (before things went sour), it is clear that the forward needs special attention. Attention that – at present – it doesn’t seem like Rodgers is providing.
The trouble is, this isn’t some kid from the youth team. This is a player that Rodgers has invested heavily in, and if he doesn’t deliver, the manager must carry a large proportion of the blame. It’s all very well Rodgers doing everything he can to distance himself from Balotelli; the buck stops with him. If he doesn’t deliver, Rodgers is responsible – and history tells us that public condemnation isn’t the best way to inspire the Italian to deliver.