Madcap Balotelli brings chaos and class in equal measure

Steven Griffiths
AC Milan's forward Mario Balotelli looks on as he takes part to a training session at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on March 10, 2014
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AC Milan's forward Mario Balotelli looks on as he takes part to a training session at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on March 10, 2014 (AFP Photo/Pierre-Philippe Marcou )

London (AFP) - Just weeks after parting company with controversial star Luis Suarez, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire by signing madcap Italian Mario Balotelli.

Rodgers finally admitted defeat in his bid to tame Suarez following the Uruguay bad-boy's latest bite, this time on Italy's Giorgio Chiellini at the recent World Cup, and gratefully accepted Barcelona's bid for the forward in pre-season.

But finding a quality replacement for Suarez has proved harder than expected, and Rodgers on Monday sealed a £16 million swoop for Balotelli despite "categorically" ruling out any chance of signing the Italy international during the Reds' recent tour of the United States.

At the time he distanced himself from Balotelli, Rodgers was understandably worried by the possibility that any repeat of the striker's previous antics would disrupt the culture of focused professionalism he has established at Anfield.

But those concerns have been sacrificed at the altar of pragmatism following the collapse of a deal to sign QPR's French striker Loic Remy.

To go one better than last season's second place finish in the Premier League, and to cope with the demands of competing in the Champions League, Rodgers needs a quality alternative to England striker Daniel Sturridge.

And, aided by a incentivised contract that rewards good behaviour from the Italian, he is willing to gamble on his ability to coax the best from Balotelli -- who has won four league titles in England and Italy -- without having to engage in too much fire-fighting with a player who once landed himself with a £400,000 repair bill after almost burning down his bathroom.

Balotelli's last spell in the Premier League came to a suitably explosive end when he was sold to AC Milan in January 2013 soon after a training ground scrap with then Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini.

That bust-up was the final straw for City after a series of headline-grabbing incidents involving the flamboyant striker, who arrived at Eastlands in 2010 hailed as 'Super Mario' and departed three years later ridiculed as 'Bonkers Balotelli'.

- Why Always Me? -

From causing a fire in his house after letting off fireworks in the bathroom to throwing darts at City youth team players -- not to mention a series of rows with Mancini and his team-mates and countless red cards, Balotelli's misadventures were a dream come true for the English tabloids.

Balotelli famously unveiled a t-shirt with the slogan 'Why always me?' after ending another controversial week with a goal in the Manchester derby, but those moments when his genius outstripped his inner demons were few and far between.

The man himself was unrepentant throughout all the chaos and by the time he joined Milan he had convinced himself that the move back to the San Siro, where he had previously played for Inter Milan, was going to be an emotional and successful homecoming.

Yet Milan endured a miserable campaign and Balotelli, often subjected to racial abuse by opposing fans, was left in tears on the bench after being substituted at Napoli in February.

In typically contrary fashion, he responded to that low by hitting a brilliant winner against Bologna a week later.

Balotelli seems to revel in showing off his child-like rebellious streak and has frustrated all his managers by letting inconsistency and a lack of discipline overshadow his tremendous natural talent.

That was the case yet again at the recent World Cup, where despite scoring the winner against England, he was criticised for his lethargic performances as Italy crashed out in the group stages.

Still only 24, the man born as Mario Barwuah to immigrants from Ghana has come a long way since being permanently fostered by the white, Italian Balotelli family in his formative years.

Even so, the suspicion remains that he still has a lot of growing up to do before he can be regarded as more of an asset than an accident waiting to happen.