The staff here at Every Day is Zlatan Day are proud to present our latest project: #BrendanWeek with a daily post all this week dedicated to Liverpool’s umm… eccentric manager. The man, the myth, the legend himself (just ask him). Whether it’s been his run-ins with other managers or the incessant myth making he creates with every press conference, or even the Hitler like celebrations he busts out on the touchlines, every facet of Brendan is hopefully covered. We hope that you enjoy it.
Where were you on August 21? The day the great Mario Balotelli returned to England? And the day Brendan Rodgers began to destroy one of the most fragile strikers in world football?
Yes, it was a glorious occasion, one I wrote about here. Balotelli’s move from Milan back to England at the end of the summer transfer window was viewed as a win for Rodgers, who was putting the finishing touches on a Luis Suárez-less Liverpool squad. Purchased for 20 million euros, Balotelli had come off the best full season of his career for a poor Milan side; he scored 14 league goals for a rossoneri side that could only manage eighth place. After a disastrous end to his time at Manchester City, he was eager to return to the Greatest League in the World™ and settle in to a Liverpool in transition.
Of course, the 24-year-old has always been known as somewhat of a…erm…powder keg. We know his time on the blue side of Manchester was wracked with tension, thanks to his various pranks and occasionally outrageous hijinks. But Brendan Rodgers (or BRENDAN RODGERS) is a disciplinarian, one of the best in Europe at handling and transforming young players (just look at how Raheem Sterling has managed in the face of his renewal saga!). Balotelli’s only full season at Milan last year and his half-season in 2013 were both successful, and he’d had experience in England before. He was about to hit his prime. The stage was set.
Fast forward to today, April 16. There’s a pretty good chance Balotelli will not be wearing the iconic red of Liverpool after the Premier League season ends on May 24.
So. What the hell happened?
This question can be answered a few ways. One is…well, he just hasn’t been great. It’s been more than a mild surprise to see Balotelli ride the bench for large portions of this season, but the truth is that some of it IS deserved. He’s scored but one goal in 14 appearances, six of which began with him on the bench. It certainly hasn’t helped matters that his projected strike partner, Daniel Sturridge, has been injured for almost the entire season, and the other strike options at Anfield are…Ricky Lambert. What’s Fabio Borini up to these days?
But more than that, Balotelli has failed to fit into Rodgers’ system (more on that later). You know what Balotelli likes to do when he’s on the pitch? Shoot. He does that quite a bit. In league play this term, he’s averaged a whopping 5.5 shots per 90 minutes. He’s played 800 minutes total. But perhaps in a testament to his frustration and desire to just get something on the board, the majority of Balo’s attempts are inefficient shots from outside the box–more than half his attempts at goal originate from longer than 18 yards away.
If Balotelli hoped that leaving Italy would provide him at least some respite from the obscene racism he experienced there, he was mistaken. Balotelli is as polarizing a character as ever, and it doesn’t seem to matter where he plays; the #takez from pundits, former players and frustrated supporters always follow. It’s frustrated him so much that he recently let loose in a very emotional Instagram video, calling out his haters and offering yet another glimpse into the fragile ego he tries to cover so often.
He seems to have established a friendship with Sturridge, and he is most often the teammate we see on his Instagram. Take this, for example. But as far as we know (not a ton), Balotelli hasn’t established much of a rapport with the rest of his teammates. This was never more evident than when his captain criticized him for taking a penalty against Beşiktaş in the Europa League. Never mind that Balotelli is probably the best in Europe at converting spot-kicks. Steven Gerrard, the flaming idiot himself, was insistent that Jordan Henderson was the man to take that penalty. The fact that Balotelli’s own captain is against him speaks volumes.
But it doesn’t stop there. Not only is Gerrard clearly in the anti-Balotelli faction–but so is BRENDAN RODGERS, his manager. Yes, Brendan, tactical visionary and staunch defender of the Liverpool Way, gave up trying to fit Balotelli into the team in November, eschewing his mercurial forward for a 3-4-3 that usually has not featured an out-and-out center forward. Rodgers’ tactics until Manchester United washed Liverpool at Old Trafford in mid-December were startlingly similar to the tactics he used during the 2013-14 season–with Suárez as his star. Rodgers tried to fit Balotelli into his team like a square peg into a round hole. Unsurprisingly, it failed. By the time he made the necessary tactical adjustments that will more than likely see the Reds compete in Europe again next season, it was too late. Balotelli was nothing more than an afterthought.
Now, Rodgers could have stopped there. But this is why he’s got a whole week dedicated to him. Nothing he does is quiet, and nothing he does is without motive. He just HAS to go to the media with his problems. Since December alone, Rodgers has complained about Balotelli’s inability to fit into the 3-4-3, his training methods, and his work rate. He’s experienced serious buyer’s remorse, and this is how he’s dealt with it: by blasting a forward with an extremely delicate ego. Balotelli’s failures at Anfield can be mostly tied to his manager completely losing faith in him after a couple appearances without a goal.
We can only hope the situation improves for Mario Balotelli–wherever that may be. Maybe he tries to stick with it at Liverpool–if the Reds start slow again next year, Fenway could act swiftly and sack Rodgers. Maybe he does go back to Italy–there have been links with Roberto Mancini’s Inter and Siniša Mihajlović’s Sampdoria. But wherever he continues his career, there has to be belief.
And Brendan Rodgers has not truly believed in him since day one.