After scoring four goals in 28 appearances during his first season at Liverpool, Mario Balotelli has been completely shunned by the club as they try to unload him. As happened when Liverpool’s relationship with Raheem Sterling went sour, stories painting Balotelli as a destructive force have conveniently been “leaked.”
According to the Independent, Balotelli once interrupted Liverpool assistant coach Colin Pascoe during a training session. And that very same day, he purposefully scored an own goal from the halfway line for a laugh.
At 1–1 during a 10 on 10 match, with Balotelli on the weaker team made up of likely substitutes for the weekend’s game at Arsenal as well as teenagers from the academy, he deemed it appropriate to turn around and fire a shot towards Brad Jones. The goalkeeper was helpless. Balotelli thought it hilarious, laughing away by himself in the centre circle.
The paper also says Balotelli stayed out late with friends the night before a Champions League group stage loss to Basel (in which he started) and was banned from driving after being caught speeding (again).
By Christmas, indeed, Balotelli did not know the names of some of his team-mates — regulars who feature in the starting XI. It is reasoned he lost out on moments where relationships are developed because he missed home cooking so much that rather than eating at Melwood before and after training, he organised for lunch and dinner to be delivered to his Formby mansion from an Italian restaurant.
Finally, they say that an ex-footballer turned Balo lackey was banned from Melwood after Mario invited him around one too many times.
Though all of this sounds like business as usual for Mario — even relatively tame by his standards, it stands in contrast to the genius plan Brendan Rodgers laid out for turning around Balotelli’s career when he first joined Liverpool.
From the Guardian on August 31, 2014:
Rodgers said the striker had initially been perplexed in training last week when asked to defend at corners. “For the first time in his life he marked at a corner,” said the Liverpool manager. “Seriously. An international player who has won three titles in Italy, cups, the Champions League. We were doing corners and I said to him: ‘I’m putting you on [a man] at [defensive] corners.’ He said: ‘I don’t mark at corners.’ ‘Ah, well you do now.’ He went in and he had a great header today from a corner. Treat him like an adult and that’s [what happens].
“Mario’s a good guy, a good man. If you take away the circus that surrounds him, and the circus he probably invites himself sometimes, and control the background noise and get him focused on his football, he’s a good fella. He’ll make mistakes but I think today you saw him get his reward for a really good week’s work with the team fully focused on football: working, pressing, disappointed not to score but you can see he’ll be a handful for defenders. He is now at an age where he has got to show maturity. I am giving him responsibility.”
By the sound of the stories from the Independent, Rodgers failed miserably in his attempt to “control the background noise” and get Mario focused. In fact, it seems as if he didn’t do that at all. Then again, adding to the background noise with public criticism from Rodgers over things like a halftime shirt swap and then captain Steven Gerrard about a match winning penalty that Balotelli converted is no way to ingratiate a player with notorious trust issues.
But now Rodgers continues about his business with a fresh batch of players to think he has all figured out while Balotelli’s career drifts closer to rock bottom.