Mario Balotelli exchanged greetings with many of his former teammates alongside whom he’d spent two and a half tumultuous season, before taking his place in the bleachers alongside Adam Lallana and Kenny Dalglish — going on to witness his new team's demolition by Manchester City.
A week later, he was part of a team which demolished Tottenham Hotspur. For those wondering why Liverpool made such a u-turn on their reluctance to sign Balotelli, then his performance should be enough justification.
Everyone at Liverpool Football Club will be happy to have him among their ranks, because despite all of his much-publicised antics, he is a world-class striker blessed with all the attributes to carve out for himself a long and successful career. Last season, the 24-year-old Italian scored 23 goals for club and country — and in the day and age of astronomical price tags, he comes at a paltry £16 million.
Some might call Balotelli’s move to Liverpool a marriage of convenience, given that they require a replacement for Luis Suarez at the earliest and he wants to play Champions League football. They could probably add credence to that by pointing towards the increasingly large line of football clubs looking for world class strikers, with not enough of them to go around.
But Brendan Rodgers would’ve surely weighed the pros and cons before approaching Milan, because the truth is that there are far more positives to bringing the Italian to Anfield than there are negatives.
The same people at Anfield who welcomed Balotelli as a Red yesterday afternoon will surely have some sentiments of trepidation because of his well-documented volatility. It is a volatility that was constantly brought to the fore by the British media, which is infamous for its invasion of an individual’s personal space.
One of the reasons Balotelli’s temper constantly got the better of him was because of the media, who were already aware of his reputation at Inter Milan. No one is comfortable being watched all the time and they are bound to lash out sooner or later.
In Balotelli’s case, the British red tops were watching him in order to photograph him when he lost his temper, smiling with vicarious pleasure as they watched copies of the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Daily Star and the Daily Mirror fly off the newsstands as readers flocked to discover his latest antics.
But his time back in his homeland has clearly made him a more mature person. Balotelli did not disappoint when tasked with leading Milan’s line, with publications such as Gazzetta dello Sport and Corriere della Serra carrying plaudits about his exploits on the pitch with nary a detail about what he did off it.
Footballers, more often than not, craft themselves rags-to-riches stories, and it is often the hardship they endured during their childhoods that makes them want to excel today. Balotelli, however, was a lot worse off than many other footballers were, having been put up for adoption at the age of three after his biological parents couldn’t afford to care for him.
Balotelli being separated by his parents during his embryonic years would’ve been like a nail being torn from its finger. His formative years and much of his fledgling adult ones would’ve been spent going through those moments which have caused him so much pain and anguish.
In many ways, Balotelli’s bad-boy image of petulance and precociousness was one that was in part carefully cultivated by the British media, who for long have displayed a jingoistic attitude towards foreign talents in the league.
Like many players who made themselves part of the footballing elite, Balotelli too has had to fight his demons, and through that process, he has matured, and training-ground bust-ups with his teammates and staff are now a thing of the past.
The best example of this maturity is his willingness to take a pay cut of close to 50% to come to Liverpool. That being said, however, exorcising his past demons is still a work in progress. Balotelli still needs to reign in his temper: during his previous season with Milan, Balotelli picked up 12 yellow cards in all competitions and was sent off once.
In fact, Balotelli has consistently been on the receiving end of a high number of cautions, averaging about nine yellow cards a season for club and country, having already been sent off on eight occasions since 2008.
Opposition defenders know Balotelli has a tendency to lash out when constantly tackled or denied of possession. It was a tactic that the Costa Ricans used to great effect during their 1-0 upset of Italy at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and Super Mario was always one foul away from a sending off.
This accumulation of cautions stems from his temper, which is something a cerebral coach like Brendan Rodgers can surely curtail. Had Balotelli been awarded a starring role in City’s FA Cup win and title challenge when he was in England, his achievements on the pitch would’ve been among the newsprint in all of Britain’s papers.
Now that he is being awarded that role, his name will be in the papers for the right reasons as he silences the vitriolic opinion of his critics. Balotelli returns to England older and wiser than when he left it. And this time, he’s got a point to prove.
Published Date: Sep 02, 2014 12:03 PM | Updated Date: Oct 28, 2014 15:30 PM