The Premier League's favourite bad boy is back! Fabled for his on-field unpredictability, his off-field philanthropy, those fireworks and that celebration. Mario Balotelli certainly gave us a lot to talk about during his three seasons at Manchester City. He's back - this time with Liverpool, playing under the man who got the best out of Luis Suarez, Brendan Rogers. John Howell weighs up the pros and cons of taking on a player like Mario Balotelli.
There is a certain type of character that defines an era at a football club that lives long past the memories of the team itself: a cult hero.
Not everybody will remember the Leeds United side of the mid-nineties, but say the name Tony Yeboah in Yorkshire to fans of a certain age and you’ll hear a story or two of his famous goals in the white shirt.
Take a visit up even further north to Newcastle and you’ll get the same response by uttering the name Faustino Asprilla.
These shooting stars shine bright in sudden, temporary brilliance, creating memories that live long after their goodbye. Mario Balotelli is a shooting star.
The mecurial striker spent three infamous seasons at Manchester City. His fireworks on the pitch were often overshadowed by those he ignited off the field. At his best, Balotelli was nothing short of brilliant, but those days were too few and far between for the Italian to stay in Manchester.
Yet his impact in his time there is undeniable. The 24-year-old’s behaviour helped him grab both front and back page headlines during his time in England. He endeared himself to fans but was a headache for his manager.
The Italian’s erratic personality traits are similar to a certain ex-Liverpool star striker… Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan was plagued with on and off-field problems during his legendary stay with the Reds. Although his departure is a huge blow for Brendan Rodgers’ side, the controversy that consistently courted Suarez will not be missed.
So why have Liverpool have offloaded one headache and acquired another?
On Monday evening it was confirmed Mario Balotelli would be joining the Merseyside club for around £16m, raising both hopes and eyebrows in the process.
Rodgers is under no illusions of the task ahead stating that Mario is at a stage in his career where this might be his last chance despite his huge potential. The Northern Irishman correctly stated, it’s a “calculated risk”.
Liverpool need a player of Balotelli’s quality this year more than ever. With Champions League football to contend with along with the demands of the Premier League and cup competitions, the Reds need goals and, more importantly, they need the ‘x-factor’.
The Italian can provide a spark of genius or a flash of brilliance that can change a game on its head and turn a draw into a win. With players of this calibre, as with Suarez, you take the rough with the smooth. If, like Rodgers says, the striker can curb his problems and concentrate on his football, the sky is his limit.
Unfortunately, that ethos has been drilled into Balotelli so many times that it’s become a cliché. Characters such as these never leave lying down. Tony Yeboah clashed with manager George Graham and left Leeds under a black cloud. It was the same result for Asprilla and then Toon manager Kenny Dalglish.
Balotelli followed the script twice with Roberto Mancini at Manchester City and Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan who called the player “unmanageable”.
A leopard can’t change its spots. What makes Brendan Rodgers believe it will be different with him?
Will Balotelli prove doubters wrong and become a Kop favourite at Anfield? Can Brendan Rogers integrate Balotelli into the front line alongside Daniel Sturridge, or will he be played as a lone striker?
Read more from John Howell here!