Mario Balotelli once unveiled a t-shirt featuring the caption “Why always me?” in reference to his much-scrutinised public lifestyle. That slogan has never seemed as ironic, as his newfound status as one of the biggest pariahs in football has meant that it may never again be him.
Liverpool took a massive gamble in signing Balotelli last year.
It’s not as if they did not have fair warning either – previous endorsements from ex-managers have contained such opinions as “unmanageable” (José Mourinho) and “living in a world far from reality” (Cesare Prandelli). Hardly a vote of confidence in the player Liverpool had just paid £16million for.
There was never a period where it looked like Brendan Rodgers even wanted Balotelli at the club, never mind as their main striker.
From his confident declaration that “Mario Balotelli will categorically not be at Liverpool” only for the striker to rock up at the club several weeks later, it looked for all the world like this was one of those “transfer committee” signings whom Rodgers has a particular fondness for throwing under the bus should things not be going Liverpool’s way.
Almost a year to the day since he signed for the club, Balotelli was a mere spectator on Monday night as Christian Benteke, one of three new strikers recruited by Rodgers in the summer, instantly endeared himself to the Anfield crowd in a way that he himself never could.
Of course, the most prevalent feeling in this whole sorry fiasco is one of frustration.
Balotelli had the potential to be an absolute superstar. He gave glimpses of his capability to perform at the highest level for Manchester City, Inter and Milan, while at Euro 2012 he took on a Germany side that would become champions of the world two years later and bullied them to within an inch of their lives. Natural ability opened the door for him, but his refusal to grow up meant he could never walk through it.
He had something – it be could be argued he still has it (though with ever-diminishing enthusiasm) – that convinces these managers that they can try and drill into him the responsibilities that go with being a professional footballer.
Any lingering hopes that Balotelli had at least tried to remain professional last season were put to rest as stories of his training ground behaviour began to surface last week.
From interrupting training by scoring an own goal from the halfway line to the constant presence of his personal stooge Desmond N’Ze, it became clear that he either didn’t understand how important remaining disciplined was, or he simply didn’t care. N’Ze in particular became such a distraction that he was banned from Melwood, which led to him sleeping in Balotelli’s Ferrari outside of the training ground.
He has no future at Liverpool, Rodgers has made that perfectly clear. He (along with fellow exiles José Enrique and Fabio Borini) had no part in the club’s preseason preparation, has not been near the first team squad this campaign, and the manager said recently that he “clearly knows his situation.”
The problem for Rodgers now of course is that even at the reduced £8million asking price, very few clubs are willing to take a risk on a player who has been displaying such nonchalant unprofessionalism and who has shown scarce inclination to change. Even Watford, who have been linked with every player under the sun, have today seen fit to distance themselves from any notion that they will be signing him such is the toxicity that the mere mention of his name now carries.
Paolo Di Canio gave a damning indictment of Balotelli’s attitude and lack of professionalism in an interview with Talksport recently:
“Many managers have tried to change him. [Roberto] Mancini was his father in football but even now he doesn’t want him back at Inter Milan.”
“He has big potential and I hope in my heart for him that he can turn it around, but I presume it will be very difficult because he spends too much time on social network and it seems he uses football to be a celebrity – not the opposite.”
He is probably not going to change – it’s getting too late for that now. What football means to him is all it will ever mean and he will act accordingly.
He will be remembered for the outlandish stories – real or otherwise – that have ensured his name transcends football, but never because of the sport itself. He legacy will be blowing up the bathroom of his rented house with fireworks, or throwing darts out of an open first-floor window because he was “bored”.
He is far more likely to show up on the pages of the Lad Bible than appear on Match of the Day – and the second he became okay with that, all hope for him was lost.
For the sake of his own career, he needs to get out of Liverpool (and probably England) as soon as possible – but with two weeks remaining of the transfer window and a lack of willing suitors, there is the very real possibility that he may be forced to remain at the club until January where he would be (at best) their fifth choice striker.
At this stage, a loan deal to a midtable Serie A club towards the end of the window is probably the most likely outcome, though by now Italy have long given up hope for him realising his potential.
It’s a depressing fall from grace for a player who had the world at his feet, but his inability to take his profession seriously meant that yet another manager has given up on him.
The saddest part is that he will never understand why.