The Blame Game – Why Always Mario?
Mario Balotelli’s comical catchphrase ‘Why always me?’ is becoming more and more apt by the week.
Initially a response to some juvenile shenanigans during his stint at Manchester City – including some toilet fireworks and a case of dart throwing – his time at Liverpool has been blighted by blame.
There’s seems to be an odd counter-culture at Anfield this season – a possible side-effect of last season’s title collapse – whereby the figureheads of Liverpool – manager, Rodgers and captain, Gerrard – are looking to attach as much culpability as possible to someone other than themselves; who better than the player self-emblazoned with the sound bite: ‘Why always me?’.
The incident in last night’s Europa League tie with Besiktas, to some degree, encapsulated the Italian international’s time at Anfield this season. Awarded a spot-kick in the final ten minutes, stand-in captain Jordan Henderson – apparently assigned penalty duties by Rodgers before the game – wilted, handing it to Balotelli, who coolly dispatched it, winning the game in the process.
With Daniel Sturridge clearly making his unhappiness known at the time, captain Gerrard – doing punditry for ITV at the game – made his feelings evident in his post-match musings. So evident, in fact, that Mario may still be trying to get out from under the bus this morning.
“It’s not nice to see when players are taking it off each other and stuff, for me, rules are rules and codes are codes inside a dressing room and when a manager selects a penalty taker that player should take it”, said Gerrard.
Codes are codes inside a dressing room, eh? One would imagine criticising your own striker and calling him “disrespectful” in front of millions of viewers would also fall inside that code.
Whilst Balotelli may have broken team orders, the fault really lies with Brendan Rodgers. Never mind Jordan Henderson, a midfielder with little penalty experience – if Gerrard isn’t playing and Balotelli is on the pitch, there is no question who should be taking it and that should have been made crystal clear beforehand.
Having previously scored 26 out of 26 from 12 yards, the former Inter striker has only missed two spot-kicks in his entire career and with the added fillip of scoring the winner against Spurs, you always back the man in form.
Divisive at his very best, Balotelli has been a figure of vilification at Anfield this season – no matter what the circumstances. Liverpool’s early-to-mid season slump was attributed to the striker’s lack of goals. Whilst it’s true Balotelli had struggled, little attention was paid to why he was failing.
During his career to date, the former Milan forward has always been most effective dovetailing with another forward or as part of a 3-man attack. Left alone up front by Rodgers to lead the line, Balotelli’s strengths were negated.
Previous to Daniel Sturridge’s injury, the pair had seemed to forge a quick understanding – the rout of Spurs at White Hart Lane springs to mind – and with the England striker’s return, it is no coincidence mad Mario’s talents have also resurfaced.
Stop Drama Now
During these long months of the blame for Liverpool’s ills being thrown his way, Balotelli has kept a cool, professional head and, even last night, attempted to smooth over any tensions with a ‘Stop drama now’ Instagram post.
It may even be a sign of the 24 year-old finally maturing. One would hope his manager and captain would help encourage this progression and confidence rather than constantly looking to undermine it.