Mario Balotelli is on the verge of joining Liverpool from AC Milan for a reported fee of around $26.5 million. The deal materialized in the last 24 hours — almost out of thin air. I’d imagine the initial conversations between the two clubs went a little something like this:
Milan: Ciao Brendan, any interest in Mario?
LFC: How much do you want?
Milan: Would you consider it for say (dramatic pause) … $25 million?
LFC: (mutes speakerphone to hide the laughter): We’d have to give it some consideration. (More laughing and high-fives.)
If all reported fees are accurate, Liverpool is on the verge of adding the mercurial Balotelli for about $5 million less than Southampton paid Hull City for Shane Long (twice an eight-goal scorer in the Premier League!). In other words the difference is likely what Liverpool receives each month from its sponsorship deals with Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, New Balance, et al.
No, Balotelli doesn’t out-and-out replace the departed Luis Suarez and his 31 league goals for Liverpool last season. However striker is the one place on the field the Reds are thin, after their move for Loïc Remy fell apart due to a failed medical earlier this month. Daniel Sturridge backed up by Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini (for now) isn’t enough to mount concurrent Premier League and Champions League campaigns. The most games Sturridge has played in an EPL season is 30 for Chelsea in 2011-12, so Liverpool needed another striking option to lessen the workload. Balotelli is that, and then some.
Odds are Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won’t shoehorn Balotelli and Sturridge onto the field at the same time, like he did last season with Suarez. Fielding two strikers would make it more difficult to get Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana (when healthy) into the lineup.
A rotation of Sturridge and Balotelli probably would work. Here’s a look at league match ratings from 2013-14. Via WhoScored.com, Suarez averaged an EPL-best 8.43. Sturridge came in at 7.45, while Balotelli was rated 7.3 in Italy’s Serie A. Via stat aggregation from Squaka, over 90 minutes Suarez averaged a “total score” of 51.4, Sturridge 36.45 and Balotelli 36.23.
Balotelli will not be the all-around creative force that Suarez was for Liverpool last season, make no mistake. With the lineup Rodgers assembled, the former Manchester City striker won’t need to do a lot more than provide a presence in front of goal, finish off sequences and create headlines for amazing goals … as opposed to red cards or other assorted fits of madness which have plagued the 24-year-old (which proved a boon for tabloid merchants) throughout his career in England and Italy.
Let’s look at some Balotelli-to-Liverpool quick-hit simple pros/cons.
- It prevents Arsenal from adding Balotelli.
- Liverpool needed a striker, finding one of Balotelli’s level this late into the transfer window is almost too good to be true.
- Balotelli knows England, having spent parts of three seasons with Manchester City.
- Balotelli’s scoring record in league play — 66 goals in 158 games (20 in 54 for City) — is above average.
- Balotelli is nearly automatic from the penalty spot, something useful if Liverpool is serious about resting Steven Gerrard more often.
- Balotelli’s rumored fee is low enough that Liverpool could sell him without taking much of a hit if the marriage at Anfield fails.
- Liverpool’s entertainment value will remain high — something important in the days of soccer clubs doubling as “global brands.”
- Balotelli fell out with Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, constantly, something Rodgers will have to work on avoiding.
- Sturridge, the team’s first-choice striker, might react negatively to the competition.
- Balotelli remains a red card waiting to happen.
- Balotelli is not an efficient scorer.
- If the “Why Always Me” aspects of Balotelli overshadows the rest.
Realistically the only downside here for Liverpool is if the “Bad Mario” overshadows the good. Watching him from afar, Balotelli seems like a player who thrives in the big moments and a stage like Anfield will provide plenty to either wow or leave fans shaking their heads — potentially both at the same time. Balotelli isn’t going to be enough to help Liverpool keep pace with Chelsea or Manchester City, but a place in the Top Four is a lot more likely with the Italian aboard.
If nothing else, consider Liverpool is taking on Balotelli for almost half what it paid for Andy Caroll in 2011 and is only a few million cheaper than the long-rumored Borini-to-Sunderland deal.
The Premier League just got a lot more interesting.