Balotelli-bashing: why always Mario?
Knocking the Italian striker has become a media obsession.
Mario Balotelli is the most talked about, scrutinised and arguably the most maligned figure in world football; he’s a lightning rod for criticism like no other. Yes, the Italian hasn’t got off to the greatest of starts at Liverpool, but by no means is he the sole reason for their indifferent early season form. What has muddied the waters is his larger-than-life personality and penchant for making the headlines, leading to him becoming a scapegoat, the poster boy for the club’s failures. It’s all too easy to bash Balotelli for being… well, Balotelli.
Balotelli’s return to England this summer represented the return of a cult figure. When the ink dried on his shock £16million move to Liverpool, the media licked their chops in anticipation. The man of endless back covers had returned. Who could forget his first run in England? During his three years at Manchester City, he set off fireworks in his bathroom, crashed his Bentley in Manchester city centre and literally grappled with his manager, Roberto Mancini. The man Jose Mourinho claimed was ‘unmanageable’ in his Inter Milan days had proved to be just as unstable as advertised.
While we watched Balotelli’s off-the-field antics and shook our heads, an unsettling trend began to emerge – criticism, both warranted and unwarranted, was constantly sent the Italian’s way. After a promising start at Manchester City, during which he helped the side to the Premier League title, the Italian left England with his tail between his legs in the middle of the 2012-13 season. A year and a half later, nothing seems to have changed; in fact, routine Balotelli-bashing has only become more prevalent.
The Italian arrived at Liverpool in the most unfavourable of circumstances; drafted in to replace Luis Suárez, one of the most deadly strikers in the world. Suárez’s joint record of 31 Premier League goals helped propel the side to an unexpected second-place finish the previous season. Balotelli, an even more divisive figure and less prolific finisher, was expected to seamlessly slot in and replace him. Should we be surprised that it hasn’t quite happened that way, given that Suarez, when he’s not sinking his teeth into people, has proven to be a once-in-a-generation talent? It would be harsh to expect most players to replace the Uruguayan, but because Balotelli is Balotelli, normal rationality has gone out the window.
There is no denying the 24-year-old has been lacklustre so far this season; he’s managed a measly two goals in 12 appearances and has struggled to adapt to Brendan Rodgers’s high-speed attacking brand of football, but Balotelli isn’t the only chink in Liverpool’s armour. Daniel Sturridge, who chipped in with over 20 goals in Liverpool’s last campaign, has struggled to remain fit. Brendan Rodgers’s use of the £75million he received from Barcelona in exchange for Suarez has also been questionable: Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Rickie Lambert and Alberto Moreno are all good, solid players, but none of these names scream Champions League quality. On top of that, Liverpool’s porous defence, which was masked by the goals of Suárez and Sturridge last season, has scarcely been strengthened, and remains as leaky as ever.
This new wave of Balotelli-bashing reached its zenith during Liverpool’s match against Real Madrid last Wednesday. Liverpool were torn apart at home by the European champions. Their poor backline and lack of quality all over the pitch was exposed, but who was the first person to be slapped with criticism? Balotelli, of course. The man brought in to act as Liverpool’s new target-man has become a target himself. His swapping of shirts with Pepe at half time was inexcusable and his performance was poor, but he was not the sole reason for Liverpool’s defeat. Not that you would have known that browsing the internet and skimming the back pages in the wake of the defeat – it was all about Balotelli.
On Tuesday evening, the Italian scored his first goal for Liverpool in nine games, hopping off the bench to help inspire his side to a win over Swansea. The chatter may stop for now, but if the 24-year-old begins to misfire and Liverpool dip again, the Balotelli-bashing will erupt again. No wonder he once asked: ‘Why always me?’