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Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Broken Clock and his Scapegoat

We may never know how Brendan Rodgers ended up with Mario Balotelli in his squad. Perhaps the Northern Irishman issued an ultimatum to the Fenway Sports Group. Perhaps they saw through this act, called his bluff and decided to pursue the Italian anyway, forcing Rodgers to back down. Perhaps the Liverpool manager was politically savvy enough to avoid engaging in a political battle against men who have more experience than him.

We do know two things however; firstly, Brendan Rodgers would have preferred to finish the summer short of attacking options than with Balotelli on board. Secondly, Brendan Rodgers is not a proud man.

At the beginning of August the Liverpool boss ridiculed the suggestion that the club would make a move for the nomadic 23 (at the time) year old.

“I can categorically tell you Mario Balotelli will not be at Liverpool,” Rodgers promised.

Less than three weeks later the two men were sat alongside each other. Balotelli was only at the club for a matter of hours but he was already listening to his new manager publicly admit this was a considerable gamble.

"Time will tell. Of course it is a risk. I am not going to say it wasn't but he knows he needs to fit into our culture. There are no big egos or 'Big-time Charlies' in our squad. We have got to the Champions League because we are a team”

Mario Balotelli has never prioritised the collective.

Rodgers’ tone quickly became even more damning; other forwards refused to move to Merseyside or were unavailable so they settled on the Milan marksman.

Before Christmas, with the Italian nursing a groin injury, Rodgers continued to cast doubt on the deal’s logic.

“I felt it was a risk we needed to take with Mario because, as a group, we couldn’t afford not to at that time. It was obviously late on and we needed to have someone in. It’s something we can’t regret now. I made it clear at the beginning it was a calculated risk”.

‘It’s something we can’t regret now’ translates to ‘it’s something we regret’ in human.

Having steered Liverpool to the cusp of their first Premier League title in decades Rodgers possessed a level of political clout only Rafa Benitez could match in the last twenty on Merseyside. The Anfield crowd revered him and cherished the invigorating, kamikaze football that ultimately cost them the title; eight books celebrating the title challenge were released the following summer.

A prouder manager would have been hell-bent on insisting that, while accepting the club’s policy of working in line with a transfer committee, he could veto a signing if he was convinced it would turn toxic.

One can see however why Rodgers failed to back his own judgement and refuse the signing. Martin Skrtel, Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson are just a few of the players Rodgers lost faith in during his reign but went on to prove his initial judgement was flaky. One of the pillars behind Liverpool’s recent success has been FSG’s refusal to shape the squad to please their manager.

The Americans declined the option of shifting captain-elect Jordan Henderson on to Fulham as bait for Clint Dempsey; they refused to pay for Gylfi Sigurdsson when the former Swansea manager was desperate for a playmaker, holding out for Philippe Coutinho the following winter instead. According to Tony Evans of The Times, FSG forced through with the acquisition of Daniel Sturridge despite Rodgers concerns.

That all the players mentioned have become integral to the team is testament to their managers’ ability to creatively find a role in his high octane set-up for each of them, and also his ability to accept his own wrongdoing.

The presence of Lucas and players Rodgers has publically criticised like Simon Mignolet and Fabio Borini, in Liverpool’s starting eleven at the moment highlight how he has yet to cross the rubicon with his questionable man management techniques.

If anyone isn’t going to tolerate public dressing downs however it is going to be Mario Balotelli. The Italian is far from the ornery man he is often perceived to be; his biggest fault is his insecurity. He is already an easy target whenever a scapegoat is required, however despite aging, his immaturity is still one of his most prominent traits.

The reason the Italian has and will continue to fail at the club has nothing to do with his mentality. Any striker would have been a downgrade after Luis Suarez’s genius insisted they challenge for the title last year but the only intelligent action to take would have been to pursue a player (albeit an inferior one to Suarez) who at least plays in the same mold as the Uruguayan.

Suarez was a leftist striker. He pressed, created and defended; his presence elevated the ability of every one of his teammates. Balotelli is inherently right wing in footballing terms; he will never sacrifice himself in the way his predecessor did regularly.

Fortunately for Liverpool fans their manager has reverted to the style of play that suited their slight, intricate footballers last season; rapid one-twos, the freedom to roam, relentless runners from deep.

Unfortunately for Mario, he will never belong in this style. Brendan Rodgers judged this one to perfection. 

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