Manager Brendan Rodgers’ future may still be up in the air pending a season review, but reports out of Anfield suggest that no matter who is in charge next season—and no matter what the player's agent says—he won’t have Mario Balotelli to blame for much longer. A season after signing the 24-year-old Italian from Milan, the club are reportedly prepared to take a financial hit to send him back to Italy.
Sampdoria have already signalled their interest, and with Balotelli having now failed to stick at Manchester City, Milan, and Liverpool in recent seasons, that may represent the level of club he will now have to move on to as he attempts to rebuild a once promising career. It also suggests the financial hit Liverpool are going to take on him could be significant—assuming they can find anyone willing to buy him outright, that is.
There’s every chance, given how far Balotelli’s stock has dropped and the class of club left interested in him, that Liverpool will have to subsidise at least one season on loan in the hopes a strong season can drum up interest in the striker. For those skeptical of Balotelli’s signing—of his fit for a Brendan Rodgers side despite his physical talent—this was always a major concern connected to his signing.
While some saw his past promise and assumed even if he didn’t work out there would be a long lineup of eager buyers willing to take him off Liverpool’s hands, many saw a striker whose skill set made him an awkward fit for the club even in the most optimistic scenario. And, in the most pessimistic scenario, they saw a striker who if he failed at Liverpool would only draw the interest of a few mid-table Serie A sides.
After a season in which Brendan Rodgers refused to tweak his approach to cater to Balotelli’s skills, publicly criticised the player, and sent him straight to the bench any time he did have an encouraging performance, the most pessimistic scenario is the most likely. Much of the blame for that has to be placed at the feet of Rodgers, whose though his misuse of Balotelli could well be said to have cut off his nose to spite his face.
Balotelli may never have been a great fit for Liverpool, and it was always a gamble he would finally come good on his long-squandered promise. Rodgers, though, did the striker no favours, at times seeming even to actively sabotage his chances of succeeding at the club, something that in the long run only hurt Liverpool’s chances last season and now will ensure a lower sale price if one believes whispers out of Anfield rather than the player's agent.
"No," was agent Mino Raiola’s blunt answer today when pressed by Sky Sports on whether Balotelli would be leaving this summer, which stands in stark contrast to reports from multiple journalists with ties to the club in recent days that have claimed the striker tops the club's unwanted list and will be sold if at all possible, even if it means taking a significant loss. "He had talks with Liverpool and he will definitely stay."
It’s a similar, if less extreme, situation that Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert now find themselves in. If Balotelli was never Rodgers’ first choice, every sign points to the manager having wanted to sign Liverpool’s other two fit senior strikers, both of whom are also reportedly up for sale this summer. Despite that, Rodgers failed to set up the team to play to either’s strengths and employed questionable man management.
All told, Liverpool spent more than £30M on Balotelli, Borini, and Lambert. They will be lucky if they can recoup even half of that. Meanwhile, the club are widely reported to be trying to bring in Christian Benteke and Danny Ings at Rodgers’ behest, two strikers many have similar concerns about as the likely to depart trio, and a duo who could end up costing the club another £30M or more.