by Dawn Elizabeth Lifsey (@baloteIlli)
It’s hard to believe Mario Balotelli is only 24 because it seems like he’s been around forever. The young Liverpool striker has had a colorful and controversial career so far, gaining a bad reputation for being egotistical and more trouble than his worth. His stint at Manchester City can be remembered by the trouble he caused, from crashing sports cars to setting his house on fire. He was a young, reckless boy with too much money for his own good and a world of people feeding his ego. His constant clashes with media and managers led to his being sold to Milan in 2013, and a return to England following Italy’s early exit from the World Cup in the summer of 2014.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has an admittedly good track record with young players. His work with Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge is, for some, proof that he can handle even the walking controversy that is Mario Balotelli. Even his work with Luis Suarez seemed to be impressive until the Uruguayan striker departed for Brazil―and was, for the third time, involved in a biting incident, this time with Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.
Italy, of course, is Mario Balotelli’s own home nation, where Balotelli is recognized for something more than just his ego and his talent. Born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents, Balotelli was placed with foster parents when he was three years old, and would go on to become the first and currently the only black player to ever wear the shirt of Italy. Italian soccer has gained a reputation of its own for xenophobia and racism; Balotelli’s selection on the Italian national team should speak heavily of his talent and potential, despite his reckless and undesirable behavior. This potential is perhaps what drew Brendan Rodgers to the young striker.
Liverpool can handle the extra media attention, that’s for certain. The Merseyside club have seen plenty of it recently, and Balotelli won’t be much of a problem to a club that’s seen three full years of Luis Suárez.
Adel Taarabt, the 25-year-old Moroccan winger who played alongside Balotelli at Milan, has claimed that Liverpool will do wondrous things with Balotelli up front for them. Taarabt told reporters that Balotelli was “coming to show that he has grown up” and that with 20 goals apiece from Balotelli and Sturridge “they’ll win the league.”
Of course, there are many that still doubt Brendan Rodgers’s faith in the Italian striker simply because they do not believe Balotelli has the potential to change. However, in his three games so far for Liverpool, he has shown none of the bad boy persona he developed at his previous clubs. His first goal against Ludogorets in the Champions League was followed by an actual celebration from a player known by his cool reactions to scoring. It’s too early to know for sure if the old Balotelli is in the past, but the future looks bright for Liverpool and their newest striker.
Is Balotelli going to be worth the risk in the long run? Are his bad boy days behind him? Is Brendan Rodgers a genius or a madman? A campaign full of excitement is a certainty for Premier League fans this season as Balotelli aims to prove how much he’s grown.