Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has today clarified to the press that his recent comments about Mario Balotelli were not to be taken as a sign that the player is set to leave the Anfield club during the January transfer window.
He had to clarify that that was “not the case at all”.
“It’s been a difficult period for him but he’s a good boy.”
How has their relationship deteriorated to the point that any comment on the part of Rodgers about Balotelli is so heavily interpreted by the media?
In part, it is because of the genuine lack of opportunities provided to the Italian international since his move towards the end of the summer transfer window.
The striker has not started a league match since the 8th of November, nearly three months ago, despite a significant striking crisis that has seen Raheem Sterling fill in as an auxiliary forward.
While this could have just been an attempt to take a poorly performing forward out of the firing line, it would not provide Balotelli with much confidence about his place in the side.
In fact, two years ago I wrote about how Manchester City also failed Balotelli, in part because of Roberto Mancini’s unwillingness to give him an extended run in the team in his preferred position. Liverpool have done the same, and Rodgers has never been particularly praising of the £16 million man since he signed. There is little reason to believe, either in Rodgers’ public declarations or in his actions as manager, that Balotelli is a player he believes in.
It could come down to the way the Reds operate, with a transfer committee, of which Rodgers is a member, having a significant say over the business done by the club. If Balotelli was a preferred signing of that group but not Rodgers, he could be using his exclusion as an example to the others.
Is that sensible? Not really. Balotelli is, at the very least, a good player – you don’t reach the level of the game he has played at without a modicum of talent. Take individual examples as well, and it’s clear that whenever he has had a spot of momentum, club managers have not trusted him enough to give him a run. He was barely involved after his exploits at Euro 2012, when a great individual display eliminated Germany.
There should also be a level of pragmatism on Rodgers’ part. His side need goals, as evidenced by the 0-0 draw against Bolton on Saturday, and Balotelli, of the three strikers available to him, represents the best option. Neither Fabio Borini nor Rickie Lambert have shown anything that makes them better than Balotelli this season.
By getting to this point, Rodgers has let Balotelli down. There is no guarantee that they will improve in the second half of the season, although Sturridge’s return will be a boost. Now is the time for Rodgers to put his faith behind the former AC Milan man, give him a real run between now and the last day of the campaign, and see if he can recapture some of the brilliance that created a level of excitement when Balotelli first arrived at Melwood this summer.