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Mario Balotelli - Liverpool's Maverick Scapegoat

Monday 13th April 2015
Our resident Italian football expert Harry De Cosemo takes a look at the flawed genius that is Mario Balotelli
Jose Mourinho tells it best and always will do. They say the key to good comedy is timing and Mario Balotelli had it in abundance. It was 2009, Inter's glory season, and the Nerazzurri were away to Rubin Kazan in the Champions League. At half time, without usual suspects Diego Milito and Samuel Eto'o, Mourinho turns to Balotelli, on a yellow card and, and pleads with him to stay calm and remain on the pitch. A minute into the second half, the red card is brandished and the then 19-year-old trudges off.

Looking back, the Portuguese, who famously dubbed the Italy striker ‘unmanageable', seemingly let everything lie in an interview with countryman and journalist Pedro Pedro of CNN. He instead channelled his sense of humour: "Mario was good fun. I could write a book of 200 pages of my two years in Inter with Mario, but the book would be not a drama, the book would be a comedy!" exclaimed The Special One.

There was also a stern warning from the Inter camp for Balotelli after the game, which culminated in a 1-1 draw. Javier Zanetti, a club legend whose San Siro career spanned 19 years, said: "Mario needs to understand he cannot keep making these mistakes".

Whether he is funny, a problem not worth solving or misunderstood is a long standing debate, but his upbringing answers a lot of questions about the quandary of his personality. Born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents, the Barwahs, Balotelli was adopted by an Italian family at the age of three. A quiet, unassuming child, he often couldn't go to sleep without his mother by his side when growing up. Racism was a huge problem, both as a boy and a player in his Serie A playing days.

His talent can be obvious and is undeniable, but six years on from that night in Russia, Balotelli finds himself on the brink at Liverpool, his third club since he left Inter as a member of calcio's first ever treble winning team.

Former boss Roberto Mancini beckoned him to the Premier League with Manchester City. An FA Cup and Premier League title represented the good in a love-hate relationship, but training ground fights, fireworks in his bathroom and a new home in the British tabloids certainly magnified the bad. 18 months after leaving the home of fashion, Balotelli returned with Inter's eternal rivals Milan, the club he openly admitted was his from an early age. This wasn't the Rossoneri of old, Silvio Berlusconi was shopping on a budget with the exception of 'Super Mario.'

Balotelli's record on the 'other side' of the San Siro was a good one, but he again lasted less than two years.

Warning signs were headed from all angles and Brendan Rodgers said it wouldn't happen, but it did. When Balotelli stepped back into English life with Liverpool, it was doomed to fail in the opinion of most. His talent is undeniable, but he hasn't followed Zanetti's advice and as such has failed to make the grade at Anfield. His long term future looks bleak and unlikely to be on Merseyside. After a poor season on a personal level when goals have not been flowing and Liverpool's bid for a second successive Champions League season has faltered, Balotelli cuts a lonely figure.

He has not helped himself at times, but the media, press and even his teammates in England have not helped him either. The shoes he had to fill were the size of a clown's, he was replacing Luis Suarez, another flawed genius, who had just been sold to FC Barcelona for £75million and the pressure was on. Liverpool looked at the Champions League as a minimum target after a second placed finish in 2013/14.

The pressure was on and he needed a fast start. He didn't get it and things began to go downhill. Rodgers has failed to find the system, perhaps as a result of Daniel Sturridge's lengthy injury lay off, but at times it seems as though the club have hung him out to dry.

Balotelli's record from the penalty spot is rivalled by few. In over 20 attempts from 12 yards, he has missed just two in his career. Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard's criticism for him taking the ball from stand-in skipper Jordan Henderson showed the situation in a new light. If he isn't allowed to do what he does best, his chances of success at the club are halved before he's even had a chance.

His reputation comes before him. To many, he's lazy, arrogant and only interested in himself. Actions speak louder than words, and his previous may make some squirm. He may make himself an easy target, but that doesn't mean he should be shot at constantly. His critics are too quick to judge when looking a little deeper at the situation.

At 24, his career is far from over, but his return to England is perhaps seen as his last chance at the top. He is far from blameless for not fulfilling his huge potential, but if Mario Balotelli is to leave Liverpool this summer, English football should also take a long, hard look at itself.
Harry De Cosemo
19 years old, Newcastle season ticket holder. European football enthusiast and aspiring football writer. Currently doing a Journalism degree at Teesside University. You can follow me on Twitter: @harrydecosemo

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