Oh no, anything but this. The prodigal son is back, playing for a major rival, ready to wreak havoc. He’ll be their hero, their cause celebre, there will be thrills and spills, crazy goals, excitement galore and us City fans will look on and pine for bygone days, for the memories and wish he was still with us. Right?
Erm, no. I’ll be honest, I think Mario Balotelli moving to Liverpool is the best news possible for Manchester City football fans. I’m guessing most of you disagree. Before unfollowing me on Twitter, bear with me for a little while.
It is undoubtedly true that Mario Balotelli holds a special place in the hearts of many City fans. Not me (fond as I am of the man), but for many others, certainly. Balotelli was a maverick, a character. Crazy stories followed him wherever he went and he was different from the norm, he was and is one of the few footballers that gauges a passionate response when you mention his name. He is certainly box-office material in a sport that needs little publicity. He was a part of a glorious part of our history, for which he deserves our thanks.
All well and good. But whilst football needs characters, personally I’d just prefer if they weren’t at my club, thank you very much. I now prefer to see a squad of professionals winning multiple trophies. Yes, the game would be boring if it was full of Gareth Barrys (this is not a dig at Barry, I should add), but you don’t need “characters” at your club to find eternal happiness. I have had endless joy over the past couple of years watching beautiful football from players I adore that make news for what they do on the pitch, not off it – that is after all what they are paid handsomely to do. David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany are not boring. They provide entertainment in a way that benefits the club they represent. Balotelli’s time at City is largely recalled by what he did off the pitch, or if on the pitch, what he did after a whistle had blown. This is not much of an endorsement for his return, not that he was entirely to blame.
Secretly we do want controversy in football. We love to see a fight, a bad boy, shocking revelations, bust-ups, bad tackles, corruption and sleaze. We love to see them elsewhere. I have had enough of all of those things in my 30+ years of supporting City. Players like Balotelli make the game more interesting, they stir up emotions and occasionally bring a smile to our face, but you don’t get extra points for that. It’s a very cold view of course, that takes sentiment out of the game we love, but I imagine that’s how managers have to assess players when deciding who to buy.
Besides, how much fun did Balotelli bring to the game? There was the “why always me?” T-shirt at Old Trafford (respect for that) and the excellent winding up of Rio Ferdinand an co. after United were defeated at Wembley (I doff my imaginary cap for that), but apart from shouldering a shot into the Norwich net and the uber-coolness of his penalties, I’m struggling. Most the stories bandied about were made up, apart from the endless parking tickets and the darts flying through the air towards youth players. A legend has been built up around a man, a mystique, that largely relies on falsehoods.
As Balotelli reaches the prime years of his career, his value depreciates or stalls with each move. Why would this be, I wonder? If reported figures are true, Milan will recoup pretty much what they paid City for him, but this hardly speaks well of his career in that time that he has not increased in value. What’s more, don’t expect Milan fans to be rioting in the streets protesting at his exit.
Of course there is the argument that this time it will be different. This time he will display his new-found maturity, Brendan Rodgers will take him under his wing, he will stay out of trouble and all will be well. Liverpool have a great psychiatrist as well, he’ll keep Balotelli grounded. The thing is, this is precisely what all his previous managers thought –Mancini, Prandelli, Mourinho et al. Mancini after all was like a father to him, and he ended up scrapping on the training ground.
This piece is not intended as a character assassination, especially considering the obstacles that Balotelli has had placed in his way from an early age. It is entirely understandable if he is not perfect, as none of us are. I am merely trying to assess the pros and cons of signing this particular player.
There is after all another side to all this. There can be little doubt that Balotelli can be one of the greatest strikers in the world. In glimpses we see it every season. In recent seasons Milan fans have seen it more. He started on fire for Milan, but blew hot and cold last season. A good scoring record for Milan tells you what he is capable of, and makes their agreement to sell him on as somewhat questionable. What’s more, we all know about the ridiculous circus that followed him during his time in England. Various false stories abounded and whilst he often let himself down on the pitch, he was also the recipient of some extremely harsh referring decisions. When Graham Poll is appearing on Talksport decrying his hairstyle, it gives you a good insight into how match officials enter the field with agendas and preconceived ideas. Maybe Balotelli deserves it then. Hey, he doesn’t smile enough for my liking, throw the book at him.
Compare this with some of the preferential treatment England’s golden generation got on the pitch, be it a Scholes mis-timed tackle, a Gerrard lunge or a Rooney elbow.
Journalist Miguel Delaney has called it a possible “moneyball” transfer, in that he is signed relatively cheaply with the intention that his value will increase in the future. But how sure can Liverpool be of this happening? Considering some of the fees paid out for other players who have underwhelmed, perhaps it is not the biggest gamble ever seen. There is also the argument that the stats for Balotelli at City are somewhat misleading as he was not utilised to his full extent – centrally, as a lead striker, the place he is clearly at his most effective. What’s more, at Liverpool, his penalty-taking prowess will get a work-out at least three times a match.
You can see why teams take the risk – a striker with amazing talent for a few million pounds more than Shane Long, it could be a bargain buy (and I like Shane Long). Whatever happens in Balotelli’s career, big clubs will be prepared to take a risk on him at that sort of price. He could be a success, I could be eating humble pie, and I might spend two weeks wiping any evidence of this blog from the internet.
But for all the ridiculous press coverage he received. Balotelli partially brought it on himself. He seemed to get bored easy and his concentration and professionalism waned as a result. His assist for THAT goal was the only assist for City in his whole time at the club, a damning statistic (still, not a bad time to get it). If you are looking for why Balotelli would be a bad signing, you’re not looking at ability, as he has that in spades. Ability is nothing without application and that’s the key to whether he will be a success at Anfield. I watched him enough to remember swathes of games that passed Balotelli by, periods of play where he got increasingly exasperated and a red card seemed inevitable, not that he has actually been sent off THAT much. He will however be a target from the minute he steps on the pitch because of the reputation he has. After Luis Suarez, you’d think Liverpool would want a replacement who was a tad less controversial and less likely to hog the headlines.
Either way, this is of little concern to City. Whatever Balotelli does, City had to sell, as the City experiment had failed. It was the right move for both parties, and we should all have moved on by now. A club who has Sergio Aguero, Stevan Jovetic, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure , Dzeko and the rest in its squad does not need to pine for Mario Balotelli. And if he scores against City, then so what? We’ll come up against plenty of ex-players in the coming years and some will do well against us. If they hadn’t played against us then the player in their place might have done even better, so there’s little need for recriminations. It will hurt a bit, but there’s a bigger picture to view.
If Balotelli does succeed, I accept that there will be a tinge of regret. Hey, there may even be one the first time I see him in a Liverpool shirt. I’ll get over it. To be brutal, he’s not a City legend, so there’s no reason for me not to. And whilst I have said that I don’t hold anything against the guy, likeable as he seems to be, I hope he fails miserably as I hope that of any player in a rival’s team. Or at least I hope he doesn’t succeed at City’s expense. At United’s expense? Yeah, that would be fine.
So what I am basically saying is that I am a boring old fart who likes dependable players who never get into trouble. Sorry. I spent endless hours defending Balotelli (my Manchester City 2011/12 season review was little more than a Balotelli blog with the odd league title and derby win thrown in) and I wish him all the best, but I don’t pine for him, or De Jong or Barry, or…
We have the best squad right now that I have ever seen, many of them on fresh new deals that will see them commit for most of their career, and that will do me. Concentrate on them, they’ve earned it.
For Liverpool, they’ll consider it a risk worth taking, as long as they have the squad depth not to be in a position of relying on Balotelli. He pays his way commercially, he is capable of brilliance and if he fails he will still probably recoup most of his fee.
Back in East Manchester, things have changed. City’s new holistic approach suits me down to the ground. A less combustible manager and a squad devoid of the likes of Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli or a shouty Roberto Mancini may be a boring world, but it’s a world that breeds success. I’ll take that any day of the week thanks.
Now if the rumour about Georgios Samaras going to West Brom is true, then that’s an entirely different matter….