It seems so very long ago, but in the aftermath of Liverpool’s sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona in the summer of 2014, there was a time when, club owners FSG’s final answer to the question of “How do you replace one of the most prolific players in Red history?” was the football enigma known as Mario Balotelli.
Supremely talented but just as equally troubled, The Balotelli Experiment© went as well as one would’ve imagined, with the £16m loss the club made when the Italian left on a free transfer to Nice two years later commentary enough in and of itself.
Of course, the decision to bring the ex-Manchester City man in was always a bit of a punt. Then-manager, Brendan Rodgers, and the infamous transfer committee—still reeling from both the loss of Suarez and the rejection by Alexis Sanchez in favor of Arsenal—knew Balotelli wasn’t even of the long list of striking recruits. Nevertheless, the pressure and expectation to follow up on the magical title-chase of 2013-14 with a splash transfer was overwhelming among the fanbase and beyond.
Club legend, Steven Gerrard remembered the desperation that proceeded the move, recalling a conversation he had had with the young manager about the decision to make a go for Italian international.
“In my last season, Brendan Rodgers came to me at Melwood one day in mid-August,” the current Rangers boss revealed in an excerpt from his 2016 book My Story. “We had a chat on the training pitch. He said, ‘You know we’ve missed out on a couple of signings. I’m basically left with no option but to have a bit of a gamble.’
“Brendan paused before he spoke again: ‘The gamble is Mario Balotelli.’ My instant reaction was, ‘Uh-oh.’
“I’d never met Balotelli but I’d heard all the stories about the indoor fireworks and Jose Mourinho describing him as an ‘unmanageable’ player. I could see that, in the right mood, he was a quality footballer but the rest of his career seemed like a spectacular waste of talent. That was my opinion of Balotelli.”
Neither Gerrard nor Balotelli clashed during the season the spent playing together, despite both being larger-than-life personalities. However, the then-25-year-old seemed to be intent on living up to his reputation as a disruptive wild card, with the Liverpool skipper quickly coming up against the striker’s well-documented attitude problems.
“There was no friction between us,” Gerrard continued. “We got on fine. I still tried to help him and I kept looking for chances to praise him.
“But I could see Mourinho had been right when he said Balotelli is unmanageable.
“He is very talented with the potential to be world class, but he’ll never get there because of his mentality and the people around him.
“Balotelli’s always late, he always wants attention, he says the wrong things on social media.
“For me, he doesn’t work hard enough on a daily basis. You’re always fighting a losing battle with Balotelli. He does too many things wrong.”
Welp, there you have it in case you were curious: Balotelli didn’t succeed at Liverpool mostly because Balotelli got in Balotelli’s own way.
Thank all that is holy that this is the last international break.