In the 85th minute of Liverpool's Europa League clash against Besiktas with the score knotted at 0-0, Jordon Ibe earned the Reds a late penalty. It should have been a moment of celebration for the home side after a match filled with frustration. But an incident in which Mario Balotelli overrode captain Jordan Henderson to step up to the penalty spot and score the game winning goal ignited a firestorm that intensified when Steven Gerrard, who served as a post-match pundit on ITV, spoke out on the controversy.
"Jordan should have taken the penalty. Rules are rules. It should have been Henderson. Mario has been a bit mischievous," said Gerrard. "Jordan is the captain and Mario showed Jordan a bit of disrespect there, but he's scored a very important goal. I think six or seven players would have wanted to take that penalty so if they all say they are taking it, what happens then? Rules are in place for a reason."
Gerrard, who is renowned for his leadership qualities, seemed to have made a mistake in his public criticism of Balotelli. Balotelli is just starting to find his form after a tumultuous start to his Liverpool career, and to throw him under the bus on international television was uncalled for.
Moreover, Balotelli has a great track record as a penalty kick taker, which Gerrard himself acknowledged after Liverpool's win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane earlier this season.
"I'm aware that he's a terrific penalty taker," said Gerrard after that match. "The manager has told him if I'm not on the pitch he'll take them."
Perhaps Gerrard has already forgotten about the second part of his statement -- after all, he was not on the pitch against Besiktas and Balotelli took the penalty. By his own logic, Balotelli did nothing wrong.
Jordan Henderson, who will likely take over as Liverpool's captain when Gerrard departs for the MLS this summer, demonstrated his own leadership qualities with a far less abrasive approach to the situation in his post-match comments.
"I wanted the penalty, Mario felt confident and he has taken big penalties before. Everyone wants to take them. I felt confident in Mario, he has taken big penalties before and he got the nod," he said.