In a civilized world, you’d think the latter part of the above headline — “Mario Balotelli insists on taking penalty, scores winner for Liverpool” — would provide all the information needed to assess what happened in the final minutes at Anfield on Thursday.
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Balotelli, a 93-percent penalty taker (27-for-29) in his career, insisted that he, not captain-on-the-day Jordan Henderson, should take Liverpool’s 85th-minute penalty kick (as seen in photo at right) against Besiktas with the first leg of the sides’ Europa League tie still level at 0-0. There was a bit of wrestling over the ball, hushed discussion amongst teammates and body language from Henderson that suggested Balotelli had just urinated in his Cheerios.
Ultimately, Balotelli won the debate and scored like the penalty-taking robot that he is. Seriously, he’s the best penalty taker in the entire world. If I was a teammate of Balotelli’s and we had just been awarded a penalty, I would #LetMarioTakeIt.
In Henderson’s defense, he didn’t sulk after Balotelli dispatched the spot kick to perfection. Instead, he joined the rest of his teammates in a round of hugs with Balotelli, getting what appeared to be direct thanks from the scorer himself.
Before the invention of social media, that would have been that. Instead, Balotelli was immediately painted as public enemy No. 1, a poor teammate and, according to club captain Steven Gerrard, disrespectful. Gerrard, who is currently injured and worked the game for ITV Sport, had this to say after the game:
“Jordan should have taken the penalty. Rules are rules. It should have been Henderson. Mario has been a bit mischievous.
“Credit to Mario, he’s scored, but it’s not nice to see when footballers are arguing. I think Jordan has handled the situation very well. He can see that Mario really wanted to score. Jordan walked away at the right moment and handled his post-match interview very well.
“Jordan is the captain and Mario showed Jordan a bit of disrespect there, but he’s scored a very important goal. I think six or seven players would have wanted to take that penalty so if they all say they are taking it, what happens then? Rules are in place for a reason.”
That’s fair enough from Gerrard, “rules” are rules, if that’s what the manager has instructed the team to do. So, the question now becomes: what in the world is Brendan Rodgers thinking, not designating Balotelli as his penalty taker? He’s the one to blame for this whole ordeal. He’s lucky that Balotelli did what was best for the team.
For the record, in a time where the captaincy means less and less in terms of on-field duties, the argument, “Henderson was captain, so he should take it if he wants to,” is completely useless.
Jamie Carragher, one of Liverpool’s most famous sons, agrees:
Pressure pen late in a big European game you want your best man on it. Balotelli was that man!
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) February 19, 2015
While Henderson said the right things in his post-game interview, Balotelli, probably realizing the controversy he helped to create, was quick to do the same as well, via his Instagram account:
With the caption: Thank you hendo for let me take the penalty.. Stop drama now. We won that’s what it count. We are a team and expecially we are Liverpool. Come on guys.