Former Arsenal midfielder and now-ESPN pundit Stewart Robson has delivered a damning verdict on Liverpool’s potential signing of Mario Balotelli, stressing that the striker is too ill-disciplined and unreliable for the club.
Having played two-and-a-half seasons at Manchester City before leaving for AC Milan in January 2013, the 24-year-old Italian international is understood to be on the verge of a £16 million return to England with Liverpool, as Brendan Rodgers bids to replace the influence of the departed Luis Suarez.
However, after seeing his previous Premier League stint blighted with various instances of questionable behaviour, both on and off the pitch, Robson believes the polarising front man isn’t worth the potential trouble he might cause, and has warned that he could unsettle the atmosphere in the current squad.
‘I’ve seen him play many, many times and, while he’s a good player, he’s just not an outstanding one,’ he told ESPN.
‘I only think he’s effective in about 10 per cent of the games that I’ve seen him play – when he’s running in from behind, or when he’s winning balls in the air.
‘When he’s playing for Italy is quite often when he’s at his best, but he’s a liability, and I’ve seen that on far too many occasions.
‘When he was playing for Manchester City [during the 2011-12 title-winning season], and they needed to win against Arsenal with seven games left, it was obvious right from the start of the game he lacked discipline and was going to get himself sent off, and that’s exactly what happened.
‘In the World Cup, [Cesare] Prandelli usually got the best out of Balotelli and made him more disciplined, but he had to take him off at half-time against Uruguay because he was going to get sent-off then too.
‘Can Brendan Rodgers get the best out of him and control him? He did control Suarez to a certain degree and got him playing well and doing the right things on the training ground, but I’m not sure Mario Balotelli’s the same sort of character.
‘I think if he buys Balotelli it’s going to be the worst thing for Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers has got his own way of doing things and wants his team to play a certain style, and I’m not sure he can trust him to join in with the team ethic.
‘I think it’ll be a bad move if he goes and buys him.’
Having netted 30 times in 56 games during his 18 months at Milan, Balotelli has the clear talent to be an outstanding goalscorer in one of Europe’s top leagues, but his noted behavioural issues have continued to hamper his progress thus far.
A £16 million fee for a star of his promise is far from a steep asking price, and could turn out to be a real bargain if Rodgers can manage to control the former Internazionale marksman, but it could also end up being wasted if old habits kick in once at Anfield.