Following Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with Bolton in the FA Cup, manager Brendan Rodgers delivered his harshest criticism yet of striker Mario Balotelli, who was not in the squad for the match against their lower-division opponents.
“He knows exactly what is required to be in this squad before he can be in the team,” Rodgers said, sounding like a frustrated parent scolding his child after disobeying orders. It’s starting to sound more and more like Rodgers just wants to pop Balotelli in the head and say “hello? Anyone in there? Paging Mario Balotelli!”
Rodgers pointed to training as the newest arena where Balotelli is lacking bite, falling short of saying the 24-year-old is slacking off, but implying as much with comparisons to other players who are working hard.
“I am judging it every day in training – Mario is exactly the same as every other player, there is no special treatment for anyone,” Rodgers said. “Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert are working tirelessly in training and when they go on they have contributed and young Jordan Rossiter, on the bench today, has been brilliant in training and I have to judge it on that. If you want to contribute you have to be at it every single day in training in order to be in the squad on matchday.”
In what turned into something of a roast, Rodgers pointed out that not only does Balotelli’s personality in training hurt his ability to make the team, but also his playing style – which seemingly reflects his whimsical, carefree attitude – is detracting from his selectability.
“We’ve made a change structurally in the team for the pressing and creativity to come back,” Rodgers explained. “He is a player that will work very hard now to get back in, but it doesn’t matter who the player is or what he was bought for; this is a collective that is about the team.”
“He’s naturally been a box player,” Rodgers said about Balotelli, whom the manager spoke with for an hour on Friday. “There is much more asked at this team and in the intensity of the team.”
Rodgers has slowly spoken more and more publicly of Balotelli’s inability or unwillingness to put forth the desired effort and change his playing style to fit what the manager is asking of him. All the while, directly beside him Raheem Sterling has learned to play an entirely different position and essentially trumped Balotelli for the striker’s role in the absence of Daniel Sturridge. With Sturridge set to return, it will only set Balotelli further back in the pecking order.
It would appear that, while Rodgers campaigned for Balotelli’s signature, he may have bit off more than he can chew with the Italian, and he’s proving to be simply a headache for the manager to deal with day in and day out. Time would also appear to be running thin for Balotelli to prove not only to Liverpool but to anyone that may be interested in relieving him of his current predicament that he can contribute in a positive, team-first manner because at the moment he doesn’t appear to be the kind of player any club would want to put up with.
The unfortunate part about all of this is many predicted this would happen well before it ever did. How did Rodgers not see this coming?