What to make of Liverpool's efforts to sign Mario Balotelli? Initial reactions to news of the deal have ranged from surprise to delight, while others sought to understand how the madcap Italian striker would fit into Brendan Rodgers's plans.
Despite the air of disbelief around the move, the former Manchester City player has reportedly said his farewells to his current club, AC Milan, ahead of his proposed switch to Merseyside. Initial reports suggested that a season-long loan was on the cards but others believe the striker has been offered a five-year contract. The fee is rumoured to be around £16m.
Desperate times for Liverpool
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The deal is a sign of "Liverpool's increasing desperation for a proven international forward" says the Daily Telegraph. And The Times appears taken aback. "That Liverpool have shown any interest in Balotelli, who is seeking a salary of £160,000 per week, is remarkable given that Brendan Rodgers 'categorically' ruled out any chance of the Italy striker moving to Anfield during the club's recent tour of the United States."
He's a big risk
The player's reputation preceeds him, and he was rarely out of the headlines when at Man City. "Given the 24-year-old's history of disciplinary problems on the pitch and bizarre behaviour off it, any deal would represent a serious risk for manager Brendan Rodgers," says the London Evening Standard, perhaps disappointed that the player will not be based in the capital after Arsenal's interest waned.
Another challenge for Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers dealt with Luis Suarez for three years, so he knows how to handle complex characters. What's more "his record of bringing the best out of his players at Liverpool is undeniably impressive", says Eurosport. "Balotelli fell out with the famously abrasive Roberto Mancini during his time at City but Rodgers is a rather more malleable and generous figure who will not rub up against the Italian." But no matter how well they get on, Rodgers will have a job making Balotelli play the Liverpool way. "The words hunger, desire and ambition are often used by the boss in relation to his squad of players. He will have to coax those traits out of Balotelli if he is to be a success at Anfield," says Bleacher Report.
But does he want him?
"Despite Balotelli's reputation for off-field controversy while at Manchester City, Rodgers is believed to have been more concerned with his behaviour on the training ground, having established an ethos of elite performance at Liverpool," says The Times. The striker could "unsettle" the squad, warns the Telegraph, which notes that the manager has distanced himself from the player in the past. "Rodgers has privately expressed deep reservations about Balotelli's attitude and character. If any deal is to be completed, it would represent a significant about-turn from Rodgers, who had played down any move on the eve of the pre-season friendly against Manchester United in Miami."
Will he even get in the team?
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher is not sure that Balotelli would be in Rodgers's starting XI. He told Sky Sports: "Would he be the final piece of the jigsaw? Would he make the starting XI if everyone was fit and firing? Who knows? At the moment Daniel Sturridge has got 36 goals in 50 games for Liverpool and at this moment he is the main man up front." Others see him as a foil to Sturridge and as a player who can cover him.
But he would score goals...
Although his work rate is questionable, Balotelli could fit into the Liverpool system, says Eurosport, if the Reds "revert to the diamond formation which saw Suarez join Sturridge in a central role". He scored 30 goals in 54 games at Milan. "No one would be able to sustain the argument that Balotelli is as prolific a striker as Sturridge or as deadly a forward as Suarez, but his record has still been unfairly maligned at times."
...and keep the fans happy
Liverpool lack a touch of stardust without Suarez, but Balotelli is "an iconic footballer and an advertiser's dream", says Eurosport. And fans are licking their lips. Owen Blackhurst of website Sabotage Times writes: "I'd love Balotelli. He's plainly not Suarez, but if Rodgers can use his increasingly impressive man management skills to get somewhere approaching the best out of Balotelli it will be a masterstroke."
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