To listen to Brendan Rodgers talk about Mario Balotelli, you would think Liverpool were on the verge of signing football's equivalent of William Brown, the disruptive, over-excitable schoolboy of the Just William book who proved almost impossible to control.
On Friday morning, many of the newspaper reports on the impending transfer focused on the presence of "character clauses" in the proposed contract, an arrangement the Northern Irishman denied in specifics, if not in general terms.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Rodgers said:
We have an intensive code of conduct for any member of staff here. That covers everyone, not one particular individual. Nothing will ever shake our fantastic environment. We've got a learning environment for players, lots of players improving.
I've shown before that as long as players care and want to learn, we can give them the opportunity to develop.
Sometimes you have to take a risk with people, but a lot of the time if you take that risk you get a reward for it.
Reporters on Merseyside had suggested that Rodgers was initially against signing Balotelli, with the deal—believed to be instigated by AC Milan, who are looking to offload the Italian while simultaneously financing the move for a replacement, likely Jackson Martinez of FC Porto—deemed to be too good to ignore by the club's board, who seemingly have an equal say to Rodgers in such matters.
Rodgers denied he was ever opposed to the deal, however, adding, via Goal.com:
No player would come into here if I felt it couldn't work.
People who know me well will tell you I look to try and develop the player and the person. Thankfully we have that culture here.
Liverpool eventually published official confirmation of the Balotelli signing on a long-term deal on Monday, for a fee widely reported to be in the region of £16 million.
Even on its own terms, that is a bargain for a 24-year-old striker with a proven record at international level, but when one considers that Liverpool are likely to offload Fabio Borini (who is less than a year younger) for around £14m to Sunderland in the coming days, as per the Daily Mail, it feels little short of a no-brainer.
Balotelli's reputation, of course, is the reason why there remain those who are sceptical about the deal and perhaps explains why other clubs (Manchester United? Arsenal?) have not come in and tried to match terms.
The Italian has fallen out with bosses almost everywhere he has been, with Liverpool set to be his fourth home after emerging at Inter Milan and cementing his reputation for off-field shenanigans while at Manchester City.
That reputation is one that has always annoyed Balotelli, as the infamous "Why Always Me?" T-shirt he unveiled back in 2011 made abundantly clear. Since moving to AC Milan, the antics—the fireworks, the parking tickets, the random visits to women's prisons—appear to have stopped, or at the very least diminished, with his problems focused towards the football field.
Signing for AC Milan, the club he supported as a boy, back in 2013 was supposed to be the making of him. Instead, the Rossoneri are another club cutting their losses, with Liverpool hoping they can bring success where others have failed.
After the loss of Suarez, the chance to sign a similarly mercurial forward was understandably too good to pass up, although not everyone expects Balotelli to slot straight into the starting line-up.
Ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports on Thursday:
Would he be the final piece of the jigsaw? Would he make the starting XI if everyone was fit and firing? Who knows. At the moment Daniel Sturridge has got 36 goals in 50 games for Liverpool and at this moment he is the main man up front.
Would Brendan then accommodate another striker, whoever that may be, like he did with Luis Suarez? He has lots of options now, Brendan Rodgers, and I don't think he will play the same team too often so they do need those options.
That may be true, with Sturridge, Balotelli and Rickie Lambert as his main strikers and Raheem Sterling, Lazar Markovic, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana among those who can be placed around them, Rodgers should have options to cope with most eventualities in both domestic competitions and the Champions League.
The question, then, is how valuable Balotelli can prove himself to be. Building a relationship with Rodgers will seemingly be key to that; if both parties feel they can trust and understand one another, then they can work together to achieve great things.
One thing is for sure, Liverpool's rivals will be wary of the threat the Italian brings—and will keep close tabs on how his adjustment goes. If Rodgers can bring out some consistency and a new maturity to his game, then he figures to be a handful for every team he faces.
Manchester City may be relieved they will not have to face their former player on Monday, with the signing coming too late to register in time for the contest.
Their manager Manuel Pelligrini said, per the Daily Telegraph:
I think Mario Balotelli is a very good player. He went here from Manchester City to Italy but I think he can play everywhere he wants.
I know the character of Mario Balotelli—everyone that is involved in football knows about him.
If Liverpool decide he is the player that is important for them, perfect for them and perfect for Mario.
Pellegrini evidently rates Balotelli. But it is Rodgers' judgement, and his developing relationship with the striker, which may well define to what extent this low-risk, high-reward gamble eventually pays off.
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