Mario Balotelli is on his “Last Chance Saloon” at Liverpool, as confirmed by his agent Mino Raiola. “It’s make or break.” What his experience in the last year at Milan and in the Italy squad shows us is that perhaps he isn’t the one who needs to change. Our expectations of him do.
Raiola’s illuminating interview with the Corriere della Sera finally hit upon some home truths about Balotelli and showed even his own representative has lost patience. We’ve all been waiting for Balotelli to mature into a responsible grown-up, a man who his teammates can look to in times of crisis and rely on when the going gets tough. In other words, a leader. It’s time we all accept Balotelli will never be that man. And that’s ok.
Not every player is a leader, otherwise there would be no point in having a hierarchy. There are silent leaders like Andrea Pirlo, volcanic leaders such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and determined leaders in the Gennaro Gattuso mould. Milan have no leaders right now – as shown by giving the captain’s armband to Riccardo Montolivo – and they wrecked Balotelli by trying to push him into the role.
It was like thinking your infant son should mature and learn about the world by pushing him into a pool to get over his fear of water. It might work, or more likely it’ll cause deep psychological scars and leave him more afraid than ever.
Mario might be able to find his feet at Liverpool, but only if people stop expecting him to lead from the front. The same goes for his Italy career, where Antonio Conte and the media have to simply accept there are players who are leaders and players who don’t want or need the responsibility of a nation on their shoulders.
I’ve been guilty of this too, complaining he hasn’t grown up yet and has no excuse at 24 for this sort of behaviour. Who said a professional football player has to be a boring grown-up? Maturity is over-rated and we should let Mario enjoy being who he is, on and off the field. It’s not his fault that he fails to live up to our expectations because we’ll forever be waiting for a completely different person, maybe someone we wouldn’t even like.