Exciting, controversial, talented, frustrating, gifted, unbalanced, tantalizing, agonizing, exultant, petulant. These words and more all describe Liverpool's newest signing, former AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli. The Italian international is massively talented, but a history that can most kindly be called "colorful" leaves a haze over the signing. So what exactly have Liverpool gotten themselves? Let's take a look.
DOB: August 12, 1990 (24) | Height: 6'2" (1.89 meters)
2014 Season: 41 appearances (34 starts)
18 goals, 6 assists
Strengths: Balotelli has incredible natural gifts. His blend of pace and power is rare as can be, and he has the technical skills that make him more than just a gifted athlete.
On the ball, Balotelli has the dribbling skill and lightning speed to wreak havoc on a back line. His powerful shot and surprisingly deft passing are both well capable of creating goals for his side, and he's a threat every time he touches the ball. He's also a massive danger on set pieces, both in using his large frame to create a goal in the box or by unleashing a thunderbolt free kick on goal.
Balotelli also has a knack for drawing penalties and free kicks in dangerous areas around the box. It may not necessarily be a reliably repeatable skill, though it does happen frequently; he drives towards or in to the box and straight at a defender, forcing him to make a near impossible decision.
Either that defender allows Balotelli by him for a free pop at the goal, which is decidedly inadvisable, or challenges for the ball. Given Balotelli's strength and skill, said challenge will most likely result in either a foul, or Balotelli getting by and getting a free pop at goal. As many yellow cards as Balo's antics "earn" him, the number of yellows, dangerous free kicks, and penalties he draws more than tip the scales in his favor in that area.
Weaknesses: Let's start with the obvious: Balotelli is not always the most.... stable... player on the pitch. He's prone to fits of frustration and rage that are problematic at best for his side. There's hope that he's starting to become mature enough to move past those; they seem less random than they used to and tend to crop up much less often when his side is successful. The general line of thought and hope is that putting him in a team that isn't as mediocre as AC Milan will allow him to be more stable.
Of course, as he will likely be a secondary option to Daniel Sturridge, or at least a co-line leader, Balotelli will have to accept a lesser role than he's grown accustomed to. That bears the potential to become... problematic.
There's also questions as to Balotelli's consistency, especially when it comes to finishing and open-play goals. Balo takes a lot of shots and his finishing rate isn't particularly stellar, but it's hard to deny that he gets the job done... mostly.
Summation: This is a risk, and a big one. It's not an exaggeration to say that this is Liverpool's highest-risk signing in quite some time. The potential rewards are every bit as high, though, and that makes it a risk worth taking.
Liverpool need another striker who has the potential to provide a significant impact, and Balotelli certainly gives them that and then some. If Brendan Rodgers can keep him sane and if Liverpool can give him enough playing time and if the final pieces of the Balotelli puzzle come together, this could be something special.
That's a hell of a lot of ifs, though.