Some relationships just don’t work out. In the beginning of the relationship, although it may appear like a ‘match made in heaven’, what starts as minor tuning or adjustment problems ultimately lead to bitter spats and ugly scenes. Ultimately, the relationship goes beyond repair and both parties lead their own separate ways. This happens in football too.
It was just 2 seasons ago that Mario Balotelli signed for Liverpool FC towards the end of the transfer deadline for a bargain fee of £16 million. That season Liverpool were, in a way, compelled to sell Luis Suarez as his World Cup mishap against Giorgino Chiellini ensured that the talented striker would be banned by FIFA for at least 3 months from playing football anywhere. Recognizing that it was one great deal that shouldn’t be avoided, Barcelona came in for Suarez and paid an attractive price of £65 million to take him to Nou Camp. Hence, after an amazing 2013/14 season, Liverpool were expected to bring a striker who could fill the void left by the departure of Suarez and somewhat surprisingly, Brendan Rodgers and the Liverpool board decided to bring in Balotelli, acquiring him from AC Milan.
On the back of a phenomenal season and some wonderful acquisitions, including the likes of current fan favourites Emre Can, Divock Origi and Adam Lallana, the purchase of Balotelli was hyped to be ‘the move’ that would put Liverpool in the contention for the title of the 2014/15 Premier League. Then when the Italian debuted in a 3-0 victory over Tottenham on August 31, 2014, despite not being on the score-sheet, fans were delighted with his initial display. Some fans would even post on the social media that ‘Balotelli will score more goals than Suarez did last season’. With a controversial reputation, the Italian was touted to be someone with ‘real fire and desire’ like Suarez. This expectation from Liverpool fans only got bigger in the next few days.
But a terrible September changed all that. While the Italian finally scored his debut goal for Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League victory against Ludogorets, Liverpool could only collect a single point in the Premier League and Balotelli just couldn’t show his flare in the domestic scene, let alone outscoring Suarez. It was getting clear: Liverpool’s attack had massively weakened since the departure of Suarez. Still, many kept their faith on the Italian, hoping that sooner or later he would find his form again.
After several goalless fixtures, Rodgers began favoring other players over the Italian. Then the striker invited further criticism from the manager during a Champions League fixture on 25th October, when the player foolishly swapped shirts against Real Madrid’s Pepe after the half-time whistle, while Liverpool were already down 2-0. The incident prompted Rodgers to put the Italian on the bench for several matches. Yet, the controversies around the striker emerged again in December, when Balotelli retweeted a tweet innocently, which UEFA adjudged was slightly anti-Semitic in a sense and thus fined him £25,000 and handed him a 1 match ban.
Following an exit from the Champions League, Liverpool then rebounded in the season with a 3-month unbeaten streak in the Premier League beginning December 21 and continuing until March 21. But, Balotelli didn’t have much role to play during this resurgence and was mostly used as a sub, with the only exceptional performance against Tottenham when he scored the winning goal.
Liverpool’s poor show towards the end of the season invited plenty of criticism and then prompted the management to look for some better strikers, who could actually improve the attack. Their desperate search for new strikers in the transfer market hinted that it wasn’t a matter of ‘if Balotelli would leave Liverpool’, but rather ‘when would he leave Liverpool’. Then, Liverpool completed the signings of Danny Ings and Christian Benteke and it was all but clear that Balotelli needed to find another team to get some regular football.
It was then around the final days of the 2015/16 European summer transfer window that Balotelli opted to return to Milan on a 1-year loan deal, being told by his agent Mino Raiola that this was his only path to revive his career and make his return at Anfield. While a few Liverpool fans still hoped that the Italian would make a return to Anfield, a mediocre season at Milan as well as the appointment of German manager Jurgen Klopp following the sacking of Brendan Rodgers, meant that Balotelli’s days in the Liverpool shirt were numbered.
Finally, the impending announcement arrived on this season’s transfer deadline day, when Balotelli and Liverpool decided to nullify their contract. This meant that Balotelli was a free transfer and it was announced soon after that the player had joined the French Ligue 1 outfit Nice.
Perhaps there were two reasons why the Italian just couldn’t make it big at Anfield: one was the lack of tuning between the striker’s gameplay with the rest of the team, while the other was his poor commitment to improve his game under Rodgers. It was frequently observed that Balotelli would not just waste plenty of genuine goal-scoring chances that a player of his reputation would be expected to score, but also make the entire team work hard fruitlessly without really trying to get the balls or be in the right position. While it would be unfair to blame Balotelli alone for the failures of the 2014/15 season, it’s indeed true that he just couldn’t fit with the expectations placed upon him by fans and club management alike.
A bad season can change careers in football and perhaps Balotelli was somewhat late in understanding that. His poor displays across 2 season ultimately cost him a place in the Italian National Football Team, where only around 3 seasons ago he was hailed as their top attacking option. There is little doubt that Balotelli is indeed a talented footballer, but in football the harsh reality is that performance matters foremost and if one can’t keep up with the competition and the expectations, playing opportunities can be limited. Balotelli will sadly be remembered by Liverpool fans as one of the most unfruitful signings in recent memory. Hopefully, he regains his lost form at Nice. YNWA Mario.