The red half of Merseyside has been inundated this week with newspaper columns criticizing wayward Italian striker, Mario Ballotelli Since moving to Liverpool in the summer, Ballotelli has failed to settle. There’s no denying that.
He has been lambasted for his inability to score, for not contributing enough to the team and most recently for not knowing when is the appropriate time to exchange jerseys with someone. For a player only at the beginning of his Liverpool career, Balotelli has been subjected to more criticism than other players get in a career.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has been placed in a no-win situation. Every time he talks to the press, questions inevitably emerge about the Italian. Each paper is looking for the latest Balotelli scoop. Local newspapers such as the Liverpool Echo have called for an apology from Balotelli for swapping his jersey at half time against Real Madrid and larger newspapers in England, which shall remain nameless, have blatantly begun to twist Rodgers’ words to make it appear that he is harshly criticizing his new signing.
At best it’s lazy journalism and at worst it’s outright hate mongering. Balotelli has become the scapegoat for Liverpool’s poor start to the season. No he hasn’t set the world alight at Anfield, but the other ten players on the pitch haven’t been much better.
Go onto any Liverpool football forums these days and you’ll find fans’ opinion divided on whether Ballotelli should be supported or sold. Some believe he’ll turn good once Daniel Sturridge returns, whilst others are adamant that it was a mistake to buy him and Liverpool need to sell him as soon as possible. For a man still only in his early twenties, Balotelli has had to face incredible public scrutiny. Liverpool fans criticizing him may want to gain perspective and realise he is a fellow human being.
Against Real Madrid Ballotelli linked well with his teammates in a performance light years ahead his performances in previous games, including the victory over QPR last weekend. Rather than focus on a striker beginning to settle at Anfield following the Real defeat, focus turned on Balotelli’s decision to swap his jersey with a Real player at half time. The phrase storm in a teacup has never seemed as apt. Balotelli also played well against Hull for periods in the second half, despite missing a number of opportunities.
In 2011 Balotelli asked ‘Why Always Me?’ The answer now seems simple.
Balotelli sells newspapers and the English media love a villain. No other player in the Premier League is currently subjected to as much scrutiny as Balotelli has had to face day in and day out. Whether it’s affecting Balotelli on the pitch is up for debate but it must be worrying times for the Italian when nearly every national newspaper in England carries the story that he’ll be sold in January if his form doesn’t improve.
Ballotelli has now become the scapegoat for all of Liverpool’s woes this season. For Brendan Rodgers it’s a serious problem. Does he continue to play Balotelli and hope Mario returns to form or does he cut all links with a player who thanks to the English media is quickly becoming a hate figure? Considering Rodgers valued Balotelli at £16 million a few months ago, the Liverpool boss has been placed in a tough situation. Such is the furore surrounding Balotelli that he may have to move on the young man for the sake of both Liverpool and Mario.
Whatever Balotelli’s next move is, it’s likely to be controversial. The English media will make sure of that.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.