Why Mario Balotelli needs Rodgers' Liverpool to rescue him from Serie A nightmare

"Another flop is not recommended. Mario is 24 years old. He can no longer use his age as an excuse." - Mino Raiola 
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"Another flop is not recommended. Mario is 24 years old. He can no longer use his age as an excuse." - Mino Raiola

 

Mario Balotelli to Liverpool. No matter the result, it is a move that will go down in Anfield folklore.

When Mino Raiola, Balotelli's high-profile agent, met with his client at AC Milan's Milanello training centre last Wednesday, local observers knew something was up. Raiola would spend over an hour with the player, discussing Liverpool and what was needed from him to make the move happen.

Raiola knew Liverpool were in need of a striker, but more importantly, he knew for Balotelli's career and his health, he had to get him out of Milan - and Italy. Encouraged by Balotelli's response, Raiola was on the phone to Liverpool the following day and organising a flight for the striker to Merseyside for a medical - and to meet with Reds manager Brendan Rodgers that Friday afternoon.

For the player, the terms of the contract were a minor issue, he was buzzing that Liverpool, in the Champions League, wanted to take him back to England. That Thursday morning, after his talks with Raiola, Balotelli posted a 'seflie' on Instagram of himself wearing a big, wide smile. After months of hostility and abuse, much of which had been racist, he was happy.

He's returning to England portrayed as disaster waiting to happen. But Balotelli has been shredded by Italian football, especially since the turn of the year.

It's amazing how he's been able to keep it together.

Racially abused by your own countrymen at the nation's training HQ? How can that be allowed to happen? But it did, just days before flying to Brazil for the World Cup.

Then, after Brazil, where he was the difference against England, but blamed for defeat to Uruguay - even though he wasn't on the pitch for the entire second-half - he is again racially abused on social media, with some Italian fans questioning his commitment due to his African background.

Amid all the abuse raining down on him came a public utterance from Silvio Berlusconi, the Milan president. But not in defence of Mario, nor in support of his striker against such racist hostility. Oh no, instead, Berlusconi moaned: “I was selling Balotelli to an English team for millions, but, after this World Cup, who will buy him now?"

You can also throw in last season's constant sniping from the likes of Giancarlo Marocchi and Zvonimir Boban, and being publicly blamed by Cesare Prandelli and Daniele de Rossi for the Azzurri's World Cup flop.

Is it really any mystery why his form has been so inconsistent over the past year? How could anyone, in any endeavour, perform at the top of their game experiencing such constant, outside abuse? And all the while receiving little but faint sympathy from his employers and those supposedly there to support him?

Which is why getting Balotelli to Anfield has been so imperative for Raiola.

A real super agent of the football world, Raiola is renowned for extracting big names out of big clubs. But he has seen his reputation sullied in England after the way he ferried Paul Pogba from Manchester United to Juventus three years ago.

However, his efforts (by his own admission) over the past three months in convincing Rodgers and Liverpool to take on Balotelli must be applauded. And you hope appreciated by his client.

Liverpool fans made the contrast a reality on Friday. He may've been racially abused by so-called Azzurri supporters earlier in the summer, but even without a contract signed, Balotelli was swamped by Reds fans late in the day as he was spotted coming out of Melwood. After a heart-to-heart with Rodgers, he was now being embraced by the Reds faithful - and the big smile was again on show. He felt wanted.

In that meeting with Rodgers, Balotelli came across a manager unlike any he had experienced since graduating from Vincenzo Esposito's youth team at Inter Milan.

Playing for Roberto Mancini at Inter Milan and Manchester City, Jose Mourinho at Inter and Massimiliano Allegri with AC Milan, Balotelli was working with managers not known for the 'arm around the shoulders' approach of Rodgers.

His man-management of Luis Suarez apart, Rodgers has also succeeded where others have failed with Philippe Coutinho and Danny Sturridge, with both players now producing the best football of their careers. The Reds boss clearly sees a contrast between himself and how others have handled Balotelli and is convinced the environment at Liverpool can see the Italian thrive.

As mentioned, Esposito, now in charge of AC Prato, saw the best of a teenage Balotelli at Inter. Like Raiola, he's become deeply concerned over the way Italian football has treated the player over the past year.

"Balotelli needs to be loved," he says. "He needs to be loved by the other players and fans. At times words are not enough, you need to show it in the way you work with him.

"All the great champions have been loved by their teammates."

And this will be the approach from Rodgers and his captain, Steven Gerrard.

Rodgers is no soft touch and won't stand for any disruptive influence wrecking the spirit he's nurtured over the last three years. But like with Suarez, if Balotelli strives to meet the demands of the manager and Gerrard, then Liverpool will be the making of him.

And, ironically, Italian football will have one of the greatest talents on the planet.

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