Updated: Thursday, 22nd February 2018 @ 2:52pm

Comment: Mario Balotelli must behave, focus and grow up to fulfil potential in England

Comment: Mario Balotelli must behave, focus and grow up to fulfil potential in England

| By Tom Pilcher – sports editor

Why is it always you Mario? Football fans around the globe wonder. The bright young forward who can light up a match as he did in the Euro 2012 semi-final, then light up his own bathroom with a firework display.

Possessing raw aggression, power, skill and, at times, heart, Balotelli has all the assets to be a great.

He has overcome racist chants in Italy, his homeland, for his Ghanian heritage and the scepticism of many English fans in his short career to establish himself as one to watch, on the field and off.

 

 

 

Trouble is, while the goals and moments of sheer genius have never dried up, the off-field shenanigans seem to be what people think of when they discuss Balotelli. Fooling around follows him around, like the resident school prankster.

Yet Balotelli is no longer at school. He’s 24 years old for crying out loud. He has a young girl. Perfect time to get your head down and do what you do best: entertain by playing great football, not by being a clown.

Liverpool is the perfect platform for someone of Balotelli’s age, a player ready to grasp a great opportunity being thrown their way as they seek to put an unruly past behind them.

The big question is though… which Mario will turn up for Liverpool?

"His reputation does go before him," former Liverpool defender Gary Gillespie told BBC Radio 5 live.

"Brendan Rodgers, out of all the young managers today, would probably be the one to handle him better than most, but I do still think it's a big gamble."

The notion has been mooted that Rodgers, who arguably handled former striker Luis Suarez well all last season as the Uruguayan scored 31 top flight goals to take Liverpool close to a first title since 1990, has skill in that department.

Indeed, no sooner was Suarez in Brazil for his nation at the World Cup and he was banned for four months after a bite on Italian Giorgio Chiellini.

Suarez’s previous major discrepancy? Biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic in April 2013 when Rodgers was in his first year as Liverpool boss, which the manager did not let undermine him.

The following season Rodgers got Liverpool playing their best football for many a year, arguably better than under Rafa Benitez in 2009 when they also came within a hair’s breadth of the title.

Hence the Northern Irishman’s punt on the volatile Balotelli.

One thing is for sure however. The mercurial forward’s arrival back in England will certainly provoke a flurry of interest in the Premier League and bring with it some headlines.

But will they be like June 29, 2012, the day after Balotelli ripped not only his shirt off but also tore the Germans apart to put a pedestrian Italy team into the final against Spain, or January 3, 2013?

Memory a bit hazy? Balotelli fought with compatriot Roberto Mancini, then Manchester City boss, in his last stand of defiance as an Etihad player. By the end of the month he was gone. 

Which raises another interesting question: what approach does Rodgers take? Arm around the shoulder, or hardline stance?

Liverpool appear to be going with the latter with an ultimatum to the talented forward that, should he misbehave, there will be trouble.

But should that even be needed? Balotelli has just turned 24, and while he will never be an angel, there’s no reason why he needs to keep imitating a devil.

“Everyone in football knows his character but if Liverpool decide he is an important player for them, it’s perfect for Liverpool and perfect for Mario Balotelli,” said Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini.

Match made in heaven then? Only Balotelli can decide.

 

 

 

Main image courtesy of ITV via YouTube, with thanks.