This is an article I wrote for the newly re-launched new-look ‘Tattooed Football’ site.
Others, far better qualified than myself, have written at length about the similarities between Suarez and Balotelli. The ‘issues’ around their behaviour patterns have been examined, re-examined, and talked about to death. All in just 24 hours of the news breaking that Balotelli will be joining Suarez’s former team for just (and I used the word just loosely) £16 million.
It seems only right then that I take a few moments to write in defence of Suarez by highlighting what sets him apart from Balotelli.
To start though I must first clarify, I am no cheerleader for Suarez. I think he is an egotist and a fool – albeit a talented one. I was vocal in condemning him for his racism, his weird biting habit (3 times now – that we know of), and stated clearly that I thought it would be a disaster for Arsenal if they signed him – like the striker had hoped.
What sets Suarez apart from Balotelli (who has a similar, if slightly more ludicrous, list of indiscretions) is that despite all his flaws you knew that he would work hard for whichever team he was playing for that day. At the heart of Suarez is a footballer and an exceptionally good one at that.
The same, fundamentally, cannot be said for Balotelli. The man seems to perform on his own agenda, his own timeframe and almost entirely removed from any managerial guidance.
In a CNN interview Jose Mourinho famously recalled a suitable anecdote from his time at Inter Milan to illustrate this point:
“I remember one time when we went to play Kazan in the Champions League. In that match I had all my strikers injured. No Diego Milito, no Samuel Eto’o, I was really in trouble and Mario was the only one. Mario got a yellow card in the 42nd minute, so when I got to the dressing room at half-time I spend about 14 minutes of the 15 available speaking only to Mario.
“I said to him: ‘Mario, I cannot change you, I have no strikers on the bench, so don’t touch anybody and play only with the ball. If we lose the ball no reaction. If someone provokes you, no reaction, if the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.’
“The 46th minute – red card!”
The game is, and always will be, about Balotelli. Suarez’s selfish moments could be, at times, crippling but overall Suarez looked to be a team player. With Balotelli it is almost like the opposite is true – that he is basically there for himself but at times he has flashes of brilliance that can redeem weeks, months or even years of bad attitude, stupidity and selfishness.
What Liverpool fans must come to terms with is that their team has just purchased Balotelli. All you’re getting is him, nothing more nothing less. You’re getting someone who has the talent to be one of the best players of a generation but none of the hard work, commitment and mental focus that is required to get there.
Liverpool’s gamble is that they think – for some unknown, or yet to be proven, reason – that they can install this in him.
So, if you’re wondering how Liverpool managed to pick him up for just £16 million, a fraction of what the player should surely be now worth, it is because there is only a fraction of a chance that he will slot into the Liverpool team, only a fraction of a chance that Brenden Rogers will be able to do what other great managers have failed to do and control him, and only a fraction of a chance that this signing will be about Liverpool rather than the on-going Balotelli show.
In light of this ‘just £16 million’ suddenly seems like little more than an expensive gamble taken in the turmoil aftermath of the unwanted departure of Suarez.
Only time will tell if this gamble will pay off.