By the time you read this, the transfer of Mario Balotelli to Liverpool could well be confirmed. The Italian striker is widely reported, as per Ben Smith of the BBC, to be heading to Merseyside after a £16 million fee was agreed with AC Milan.
The fee appears to be something of a bargain for Liverpool, with Milan presumably keen to simply remove Balotelli's wages from their books, but his signing is still thought of by some as a gamble.
Indeed, according to Andy Hunter in The Guardian, Brendan Rodgers is keen to insert a "behaviour" clause into the Italian's contract. Hunter reported:
Liverpool’s contract offer to Balotelli is expected to include clauses on conduct and behaviour that exceed standard practice. Only if he agrees to the club’s terms and Rodgers’ requirements will the transfer proceed.
Balotelli's reputation for bad behaviour and indiscipline is widespread, of course, and is fuelled partly by Jose Mourinho's contention that the striker is "unmanageable," as per Joe Bernstein in the Daily Mail. But there are certainly signs that the striker, now aged 24, is perhaps not fairly represented by this reputation.
In his time at Milan he was only sent off once, and that was for dissent after the final whistle of a game against Napoli, in which he had missed the first penalty of his career.
Indeed, many of the stories about his behaviour off the pitch have been exaggerated, so it seems slightly unfair to include a clause in his contract specifically referencing this, particularly when someone like Luis Suarez, given his past indiscretions, received no such treatment.
The idea that Balotelli's signing is a gamble should be dismissed, for a number of reasons, not least because of the man he is ostensibly replacing.
While the idea of spending so much money on a variety of different players is that no single man will have the pressure of filling Suarez's shoes, Balotelli will be the "marquee" signing of the summer for Liverpool, and if they require a talisman to step in for Suarez, it will be the Italian.
Balotelli, despite being sent off five times in his career for Milan, Manchester City and Inter, is arguably less of a disciplinary risk than Suarez.
The Uruguayan has received lengthy bans for three separate incidents of biting, and another after being found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra. If he had stayed at Liverpool this summer, as per James Maw of FourFourTwo magazine, he would have been suspended—without ever being dismissed on the pitch—for just under 20 percent of the games he would otherwise have been available for.
Aside from any sort of moral aspect to having a character like Suarez in your team, it seems strange to regard Balotelli as a gamble and a man who one has to make contractual provisions over, but not the Uruguayan.
Of course, viewing things from a purely footballing perspective, Suarez is a better bet than Balotelli, but the gulf is not that great. After signing for them in January 2013, Balotelli made 43 starts for Milan, in which time he scored 28 goals, which is a superb record by any standard.
With Daniel Sturridge improving and Raheem Sterling given extra responsibility, Liverpool may well miss Suarez's individual contribution, but when combined with Balotelli's efforts they will go some way to compensating for the Barcelona man's loss.
And in any case, while it seems odd to think of £16 million as a very small amount of money, in the wider scheme of things it is quite a bargain for Liverpool, particularly when one considers that they could recoup £14 million of that if Fabio Borini's move to Sunderland, confirmed by Gus Poyet on August 8 per BBC Sport, finally goes through.
Arsenal have been interested in him, with the Daily Express claiming they could even make a late bid, along with Chelsea, to scupper the move. Galatasaray were reported in the Turkish outlet Fanatik (via Football Italia), to be interested as well.
Mario Balotelli might be a figure who divides opinions, but the idea that he will be a gamble for Liverpool is wide of the mark.