Balotelli not a gamble for Liverpool

Transient

A few hours ago, Liverpool completed the transfer of Mario Balotelli. This transfer had been floated a few times over the summer, along with a whole host of other players linked with Liverpool following the sale of Luis Suarez, but it didn’t seem as though anything would come of it, until, suddenly last week, it was on.

It’s fair to say the reaction to this transfer was mixed. Most Liverpool fans are excited about such a talented player coming to the club. Other Liverpool fans and most non-Liverpool fans are of the opinion that Balotelli carries too much baggage and has had too many problems to be worth bothering with, and Liverpool would be better off without him.

Balotelli is equally capable of lighting a game up with the undoubted ability he possesses, or by stinking it up with a terrible attitude which can include giving up in the middle of games or going off the reservation tactically. He can often manage to do both in the same game.

No matter which side of the fence an opinion fell, whether the transfer was a good idea or not, there was one word that kept being used when describing this transfer, which was ‘gamble’.  

There’s an element of a gamble in all transfers. Clubs can try to minimise the risk of a transfer not working out through scouting, analytics, speaking to the player to try to ensure they’ll fit in and by taking measures to help them off the pitch, but there’s always the chance of that player picking up a serious injury in their first training session. 

That being said though, I think in terms of being a gamble, Balotelli’s transfer such a small one that it’s almost not a gamble at all. The risk/reward ratio is so skewed in favour of reward that it’s a no-brainer that Liverpool should sign him.

Balotelli is a player with supreme talents. If you think of the world’s best players, Balotelli has all the ability they have. But, if you think of the world’s best players, you won’t have thought of Balotelli, as he’s never come close to being an elite player, despite having won a lot of trophies throughout his career.

He’s just never managed to put together the undoubted gifts he possesses and turn them into becoming the type of player a player with his natural ability should be. There’s always been something holding him back, and it’s probable that that something was himself.

But, there’s always the chance that he’ll finally settle down at a club and flourish, and Liverpool could be the place to do it. This is a guy who is only 24 years old, so should have the best years of his career ahead of him. Balotelli’s agent was saying that one of things which appealed to him about a move to Liverpool is that he wouldn’t be expected to lead.

Of course, with Balotelli comes his reputation for bad behaviour. Off-field quirks aside, Balotelli has been involved in several instances where he has looked as though he couldn’t care less when he’s been on the pitch. There have been several instances where he’s blatantly disregarded the instructions of his manager, and he has racked up a lot of red cards in his career so far.

It should also be pointed out that Manchester City didn’t miss Balotelli when they sold him, and as Milan have accepted what seems to be a low offer for him, it suggests they weren’t too sorry to see him go either, and that was only 18 months after he was given a rapturous reception when he arrived.

The hope Liverpool have is that Balotelli has matured as he’s got older, so he won’t be as undisciplined as he has been in the past. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will hope that he and his staff will be able to get the best out of Balotelli. Rodgers will cite the experience of Daniel Sturridge, who came to a Liverpool with a reputation for being difficult, but has not had any problems so far.

It also It should also be noted that although he’s had various managers tearing their hair out, with Jose Mourinho calling him 'unmanageable', there have been very few complaints from his teammates; despite his problems at the various clubs he’s been at, he’s generally been liked by the other members of his team.  

The £16m that Liverpool are reported to have paid to sign Balotelli seems even better when you put it into context with other transfers of strikers this summer in England.

A few weeks ago Southampton paid £12m for Shane Long, a capable enough but mediocre striker, who had been pretty poor following a transfer to Hull last season. Similarly, Fulham paid £11m for Ross McCormack, who has a good goalscoring record in the Championship, but has never played at a higher club level than that.

Balotelli’s arrival may mean that Sunderland may finally be able to sign Fabio Borini from Liverpool, with the two clubs having agreed on £14m earlier this summer, which means Liverpool would be getting a better player for just a little more than they will receive for a player they don’t want.

If £11-14m is the going rate for those strikers, then getting a player with a lot of Champions League and International experience, and a lot more upside, for just a few million more is a steal.

This really is a low-risk situation for Liverpool. Unlike several of their previous transfer mistakes, which have seen them lose a ton of money on transfers that made no sense at the time, and only seem worse with hindsight, there really is little risk in signing Balotelli.

Even if the worst happens; Balotelli does nothing on the pitch, demonstrates the bad attitude that has clouded his career so far and falls completely out of favour, Liverpool will still be able to recoup £10m or so easily and hopefully by that point Divock Origi will be ready to step up into the Liverpool team.

Balotelli is so naturally gifted that there will always be a club willing to take a risk on him, or a coach believing they could be the person who finally gets the best out of him. So it’s not as though Liverpool will be stuck with no takers should they want to get rid of him.

Also, unlike many foreign players signing for English clubs, there are no concerns about Balotelli being able to adapt to living in England. It’s an unfortunate fact that Liverpool (and Man United if truth be told) have missed out on several foreign players because they don’t want to live in North-West England. Only this summer Liverpool missed out on Alexis Sanchez, who would have fit the bill for them very nicely, to Arsenal because Sanchez preferred to live in London. Manchester City have had to pay astronomical wages to players to get around this problem.

For all the complaints about British weather, food and the side of the road we drive on he made after joining Milan, Balotelli seemed happy enough living in the region, and shouldn’t have any problems in moving back.

It’s also hoped that Balotelli will become the first Italian player that succeeds for Liverpool. Daniele Padelli was the first, having came on loan to Liverpool from Sampdoria, but was terrible in his one and only appearance and the club decided against signing him. Andrea Dossena was dreadful, Alberto Aquilani was signed injured, never seemed to get fit and certainly never came close to living up to his price tag. Fabio Borini showed a few flashes of promise, but was hampered through injury and, following the signing of Daniel Sturridge, was surplus to requirements.  

Who will copy Club America's Blueprint?

IT'S BEEN A MONTH SINCE LIGA MX STARTED,  and it has been a month since I have occupied this space.  As is the norm, I had a serious case of World Cup withdrawal, and frankly, watching Liga MX or the World Series of Guinness or anything else was not going to be a methadone strong enough to get me out of the funk. Oh, I watched, but only through a glassy gaze.  What was I supposed to do?  Get back into baseball? 

No manches!

Despite the lack of interest in what I was seeing, it did not mean I was not paying attention to the bigger picture.  Even through my stoic stare, it is hard to ignore the early season performance of a team like Club America.  A team that finally, finally, has a front office that is worthy of leading a team.  Ricardo Pelaez, a former player, former champion, former World Cup veteran, and member of the Necaxa dynasty of the mid '90's, has made the guy who chose him, Yon de Luisa, look great.  Pelaez hired Miguel Herrera, the academy has generated enough top flight talent that two of their players were sold to European clubs, and have made shrews purchases themselves.  The club has won 5 in row to start the season, and their current coach says the team is nowhere near mid-season form.

It wasn't long ago that Club America was run by a guy whose only tie to the sport was his certification from the Cruyff institute.  De Luisa is a Televisa guy who has a proven track record, his current decision making has been stellar, and his future is even brighter.  He headed the Organizing Committee for the U17 World Cup in 2011, and is a shoo-in for the FMF top job when it becomes available.  Hopefully sooner than later.  For now, the club has taken full advantage of the resources he has put in place.  It does not happen often in Liga MX, but when capable people are put in positions of influence, the results speak for themselves. 

And then there is Pumas and Chivas.  Both are stuck in the mud, and both need only look in the mirror for the reasons why.  Chivas has been a dumpster fire ever since Jorge Vergara sold off Chicharito to ManU.  Coaches have come and gone, as well as players, player personnel execs, Cruyff, and La Volpe.  Vergara often complains that he pays  premium for talent because of their "nationals only" philosophy.  He is right, so he ignored the market as mush as possible and relied on his youth system, which was a short-term fix.  It was only a matter of time before a roster with little veteran experience would crack.  And with no veteran leadership for the kids to lean on, not to mention a coaching carousel that spun out of control, solid prospects have been playing with little to no confidence.   Chivas is running out of time before they burn the youngsters out.

They in real danger of dropping out of Liga MX entirely, but Vergara doesn't seem to think so.  His belief is that Cruyff damaged Chivas more than anything or anybody, and is still cleaning up the mess.  He expects to be at Americas level sooner or later.  Good luck with that, but there is hope.  He hired Albert Benaiges, the guy who ran La Masia, and the organization's best player just got called up to the national team. 

Too bad for Guadalajara fans Cubo Torres plays in Carson, and not in the cavernous Omnilife.

Hands up those of you who had "Pumas" in the pool as the first team to show their coach the door.   Pumas, a club that has long relied on nourishing their roster from within, appears to have a well that has run dry.    Aside from that, their problems started in earnest when the front office refused to give coach Memo Vazquez some new faces for the roster. He walked, and the suits have tried a litany of front office and coaching combos, brought in veteran players (ironically, apparently), younger players... none of it has worked.  The big, big, reason, though, is that the academy has not been producing the quality players to which we have grown accustomed.  So things have come full circle.  Memo Vazquez has been brought back -- the classic Liga MX short-term patch.  However, Pumas is looking long term as well, bringing in former player, now executive, Antonio Sancho.  Probably hoping to use the same blueprint that has brought America back among the Liga MX elite.

Why not?  Everything else they have tried has been an unqualified disaster.