Can Rodgers tame Balotelli?

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iol spt ag23 Balotelli Reuters Mario Balotelli will need love and attention, will Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers be able to give it to him? Photo: Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

On June 24 in Natal, Luis Suarez contributed the single most memorable act of this summer’s World Cup when he bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.

It set off a chain of events that ultimately saw the Uruguayan sold to Barcelona

By coincidence, also playing that day was the man who has now transpired to be Suarez’s unlikely replacement at Liverpool and it is the evidence of that hot afternoon in north-east Brazil that, as much as anything, goes to show just how big a gamble Brendan Rodgers is taking in bringing Mario Balotelli back to the Barclays Premier League.

In arguably the biggest game of his year, Balotelli was dreadful against Uruguay in a contest that was to decide Italy’s destiny.Fouled early on, he contributed almost nothing, was booked for dissent and substituted at half-time.

In some ways, Balotelli’s World Cup mirrored his career. He scored against England in the first game to briefly threaten a genuine impact. Two totally ineffective games later, he was heading home.

This is what should perhaps give Liverpool supporters pause for thought today.

Balotelli’s colourful private life may well be manageable by someone like Rodgers.What is open to question, though, is whether the 24-year-old has improved enough as a footballer since he left Manchester City one-and-a-half years ago to merit an investment of £16millon plus wages.

On the surface the evidence would appear not.

Balotelli was a million miles away from being a Premier League footballer during his time at City. Even Roberto Mancini’s own coaching staff felt that.

A dreadful trainer with an inability — or unwillingness — to listen and to process information, he could rarely be relied upon in game situations largely because of his tendency to disregard instructions and therefore disrupt team shape and tactics. On the training pitch, Balotelli used to antagonise team-mates when he grew restless and feign injury whenever he made a mistake. It was not a particularly effective combination. On the field, he provided occasional moments of inspiration but they were relatively rare.

Difficult footballers — Suarez, for example — are often worth the trouble if they contribute on the field. If they don’t then they just become an expensive waste of time.

Having returned to Italy, Balotelli scored 14 Serie A goals last season, a decent return in that competition. It is tempting to wonder, though, why Milan have been so keen to sell him back to an English club, even if international team-mate Andrea Pirlo does think he is a much-changed individual.

‘Mario has matured since he has been back in Italy,’ said Pirlo. ‘He will be the first to admit when he was younger he made some mistakes — but he is not that player anymore.’

Rodgers has already improved a good number of players at Anfield.

Suarez was a better player when he left, Daniel Sturridge — who he had huge reservations over — has trained on while Raheem Sterling is a far better player and person after two years working with Rodgers.

The Northern Irishman clearly has flair for this part of the job and maybe he can prove the sceptics wrong. If he does, it will be some achievement.

Balotelli will need love and attention and, just as importantly, will expect to play every week as a through-the-middle No 9. He is not a flexible footballer. On Merseyside, it is time to light the blue touch paper and stand back. – Daily Mail

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