Why did Liverpool sign Mario Balotelli?

By Tony Attwood

That question was asked yesterday at the head of an article in the Telegraph, the full title of which was, “Why did Liverpool sign striker Mario Balotelli when he is so unsuited to Brendan Rodgers’ playing style?

The article is fairly long and detailed, but it is only at the end that the writer answers his own question.

“The mistake Liverpool seem to have made – rather like Daniel Levy at Spurs when he sold Gareth Bale – is thinking four £20 million players could replace Suárez.”

Maybe that’s so, but looking back at what Rodgers said at the moment the Suarez sale was made, he wasn’t actually saying anything like that.

On 15 August the Guardian (and many other papers) quoted Rodgers as saying, in a press conference,

“We haven’t brought in another striker so far apart from Rickie Lambert. The money is there but there has been no panic buying. We needed to improve the squad whether Luis was still here or not. We will look to improve at the top end of the field until the very end of the window. If not, that means the right player hasn’t been available. I’d be happy to go into the season with the squad we’ve got.”

After that came the signing of Balotelli who until this week found scoring problematic, and who has quite a number of detractors.

So was it that Rodgers thought, like Levy before him, that a top (if deeply flawed in the mouth operating department) player could be replaced by several lesser players?

That is one possible explanation. But there is another.  And it is that both Rodgers and Levy thought that they could find a top replacement, and bring him in.  But in the end couldn’t.

I do believe that sometimes senior people in a club, rather like some of the club’s supporters, can’t imagine that players won’t want to come to their club.  They know that by and large if they can tempt the player and his agent, then they can make life so difficult for the current employer that the player will leave.  But the key issue all the time is that the player must want to go to the club.

A bit like Fabregas wanting to follow the source of his DNA to go to Barcelona.  In the end Arsenal had no choice but to flog him.

But not everyone has the great desire to go to a certain club.  Liverpool has a long term reputation, and there was a period in the past when they were a top European team.   But that went after Benitez, and although back in Europe this season, they don’t have the long term credibility of appearing in the Champs League that other teams do.

Likewise, although Liverpool still looks back to the part it played in the musical revolution of the 1960s, that too is a thing of the past.   Again, while the stadium is being redeveloped, and might be quite nice in the end, the area around the stadium looks fairly awful, at least to my eyes.

And although Rodgers has been at Liverpool since 2012, that isn’t that long in terms of managerial credibility.  His previous clubs, Watford, Reading, Swansea, built his reputation, but that is not the same thing as, for example, Arsene Wenger who came to Arsenal with every French player being aware that he had taken Monaco to the title in his first season there.

I suspect the true answer is that some players that Liverpool approached simply didn’t want to go to Liverpool FC and were not yet convinced of the manager.

A similar situation may well have affected Tottenham post-Bale.  One of the downsides of their constant churn of managers is that players don’t have the confidence as to what will happen in the future.  True, they want to win things, but they also want to work with a manager who they can get on with, and who will help them develop.  When you don’t know who your manager will be next year, that is a hard one to buy into.

I mention all this, and picked up on that headline, because in many ways I think the same can apply to Arsenal.  I do think we have an inbuilt advantage of a manager with a very high reputation in world football, with a wonderful stadium and a huge following, and the fact that we are in London.  But even with all that there are many players who simply don’t want to leave, or don’t want to come to Arsenal.

Which puts Arsenal in the position of Liverpool.  Everyone says we want more defenders, just as Liverpool need a new forward.  But, supposing the top person we want doesn’t want to come.  What should we do?  Buy second best?  Buy and hope for the best?

Or consider this.  Supposing there is a player that we really want to sign, but who is not able to come now for some reason, but who will come in January.  Should we go out and buy another player who really isn’t that good, but is a stop gap?  Or should we hold onto the money and get the player we want in January?

Buying a stop gap seems ok, except that we not only have to pay for him, we also have to pay his wages for maybe four years, even though he might not be wanted.

And here’s another thing.  Buying the stop-gap player means that our youngsters don’t get a chance.  More than that they see blockages being put in the way. Would Gnabry have stayed if all he saw was another stopgap being brought in?   And Zelalem.  Or Bellerin, Hayden and Akpom?

With hindsight we can say, yes we needed another defender.  But who knew that we would get this many defensive injuries?  We could have bought one, used up, say, £10m on transfer fees, and maybe another £10m on salary over four years.  And that would be £20m not available to buy the right player – for a player that maybe never got a game if the injuries had gone the other way.

Injury is not something that can be foretold, and buying players as cover is a very risky business financially.  If you don’t need the player you look stupid for wasting the money which could have gone elsewhere, if you do get the injuries and not have the player, you look stupid for not buying.

But at the heart of it all is the fact that no one can force a player to want to come to your club.

I’ve never worked in Liverpool – but if someone had offered me a job there they would have had to double my London salary to get me there.  That’s just my prejudice.

All I am saying is that players have prejudices and wants and wishes too.  Just because Arsenal wants him, it doesn’t mean he wants Arsenal.




24 Replies to “Why did Liverpool sign Mario Balotelli?”

  1. interesting article. Heard it was the owners and not Rogers who wanted Balotelli in…but guess we shall never know. Just as AVB allegedly stated he did not chose some of the Bale replacements, that being down to Levy/Baldini…though maybe Spurs got off likely, apparently AVB wanted the sub useless Hulk! and Moutinho as well, but seems he wanted the riches and climate of Monaco.
    agree on the compllexities of Arsenal buying defenders…but will disagree with one thing, you nention the club cannot be expected to fortell defensive injuries. Recent years expeience tells us Wenger should always work to the worst case scenario when planning for injuries. I think at times, he has been a bit optimistic, especially considering our injury record….and our treatment from the repidly becoming discredited pgmol

  2. After all each club is only allowed to register 25 players, more of the ‘just in case’ variety will reduce the prospects of our talented youngsters.

    A no brainer In my opinion.

  3. ‘With hindsight we can say, yes we needed another defender. But who knew that we would get this many defensive injuries? ‘

    If you have followed Arsenal for more than a few seasons, there are three things you should be familiar with;
    1. We play attractive football
    2.More times than not we don’t get the calls, and finaly
    3. We lead the league in the injury department every season.
    Considering that this was a World Cup year and many Arsenal players had no proper summer breake , our usual injury troubles were not only likely to happen again but rather certain to be worse than in a normal year.

    Also if you consider the fact Koscielny has been complaining about his tendinitis since March , going into the new season being light on numbers at the back was a real gamble.

  4. Sorry, OT.

    What should a team do, if in the next round of playoffs the winner has to play a team backed by the mafia? Indonesia apparently just seen this situation. Towards the end of the game, one side scored on itself twice and the other side score on itself three times.


  5. I think that in the modern game we have to get used to the greater influence of sponsors. If it’s true that it was Liverpools owners (who know little of football) who made the Balotelli call then maybe that’s because the sponsors quietly like the idea of a bad boy who attracts headlines and gets the club publicity. The old adage that ‘all publicity is good publicity’ was always contentious but, nowadays, when publicity success is measure in clicks (regardless of cause) then maybe buying players like him is the price you have to pay for being able to attract sponsors whose aims are not necessarily precisely your own.

  6. The real problem is noone has the magic eye for a player. they get lucky, they get unlucky. We brought in Sturridge and Coutinho for bargain prices. But 18 months later we’ve brought in Balotelli – totally unsuited to liverpool’s style of play – and Lovren – a car crash of a central defender.

    Then add in a whole load of young promising players that clearly come from the Hunter/Fallows chief scouts (who probably pushed for Balotelli too) and you have a real all-in-one pizza of a transfer outcome with the only common foundation being lower wages and future promise.

    BR wanted Ashley Williams for a defender. He doesn’t have a high ceiling but is very solid at what he does. lfc wouldn’t buy him due to age and cost combination likely. But Lovren is ten times worse as a defender and it beggars belief that it wasn’t obvious to these so called experts.

    In the end, you have to improve the 1st team, you can be far more innovative around the squad but 1st team requirements shouldn’t be in any doubt.

    Putting the very good young full backs aside, BR forced through Lovren and Lallana and was given Balotelli. That’s just not good enough in quality for the 1st team, never mind the £60m it cost. No top 4 for Brendan this year and it’s his own fault.

    But then without unlimited pockets, you’re not going to get the best players. That’s money for you and that control is getting tighter all the time. I hope it kills the current incarnate of football so it can once again rise from the ashes.

  7. Great article Tony – a rational treatment of the subject.

    I wish some of the people who keep saying ‘Wenger should have bought a defender’ would think things through like this sometimes.

  8. Great article and quite thought-provoking. As far as Arsenal is concerned, I seem to think it is all playing out in the favour of our young talents. One or two will break into the first team before the next window. Bellerin has and I see at least a couple more before January. Transfers are not as easy as most people think and with a healthy youth/academy set up you can never go wrong. A critical look at Southampton tells the story beyond words. Football will win for a long time if this can be sustained. But not by going the Barcelona way, with a hint of child trafficking added to the bargain. Sometimes we have to live with the practical dynamics of the game-tranfers and their complications, team needs, club finances etc. Its a precarious balancing act that has swept away many a great managers. The enormity of it all is frightening. To think that a man like Wenger has managed to keep his job these many years is nothing short of a miracle. The least that such men deserve is respect if not admiration. That Brendan Rodgers is in the situaton he is as far as Balotelli is concerned says a lot. Good coach, no doubt but see how things are panning out for him and the club. Let’s hope it turns out okay for them, though but I say that with my tongue in my cheek.

  9. The last paragraph of your post, Tony, should be digested by those short-sighted supporters of our great Club, who, at every Window, wrongly assume that if the money is available, then the player must be also.

  10. Nice write up Tony!

    I am sure most of us will agree that: Unless one bases their theories of transfers on The Virtual Reality Word of EA Sports games (FIFA Manager etc…) which are largely simulations of data fed into their programs by the same people who do the game statistics etc on match day, and make up the pundits main talking points, then surely it is clear that the Media have much to do with these transfers through their hype, and we are very fortunate we have a club that is not led by the nose – with this type of hype and hysteria each transfer window.

    Otherwise think of how many (Balotelli types) we would have signed-on (who would have just been sitting on our books) till today just so as to go along with the hype and hysteria!

    One great boxing Manager (I forget his name, but I remember these words); that “the amateur needs lots of time before he can be a pro”. Asside of the obvious meaning of that sentence, I translate it into young talent needs lots of time before making the ‘big league’ his. I am thankful we have given to these youngsters the time needed and opting NOT to put barriers in front of them thanks to Wenger

  11. And depending on what level you switch the game onto – transfers can be very easy or very difficult in those Virtual Reality games!! I guess most of these (sign this or that player types) people have the game permanently on EASY 🙂

  12. I still think buying players is a waste of money. A good investment in a Limited company will probably rid us of all ills in one hit. No more bad calls no more injuries and lots of penalties!!!

    A 60% stake in PGMOL.

    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  13. Menace, yes, the club need to be doing more, than they at least appear to be doing about the refs.

  14. I’m sure that AW prepared for the injury problem; why else are there so many youth ready to break through, and some will step up to fill the void. This is their chance to impress, and Jan we will see who has sealed it.
    In Jan we may need an older player to fill in (depending on how the youth do) if we do not get the one we wanted all along.
    It’s clear that Bellerin is ready, and we know Gnabry is too, and we know they are straining at the leash to have that performance that impresses everyone and self.

  15. We did buy defenders. AW thinks Chambers is the Tony Adams of the future, and as usual he is most probably right!

  16. WE did buy chambers and Debuchy BUT we sold Vermaelen and Sagna left, we also lent Jenkinson to West Ham and completed the transfer of Johan Djourou. Here is where I differ to some but don’t condemn or accuse the manager either. We should have bought a CH who could have been told, there are two spots, 4 trophies to play for and we want real competition: so give the boss some difficult decisions to make.

    After all, and this is where i fail to see some of the logic in the case Tony outlines (sorry Tony, hopefully we can disagree!) because we have lots of attacking midfielders that compete: Ozil, Alekiz, Ox, Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky, Cazorla (and that’s without wingers like Theo and Gnasher). We can cope with a large squad financially and we can still give youth a chance.

    Now I expect and hope that, as Tony implies, we may be waiting on a signing that wouldn’t materialise until January and we may face the issue that soem players don’t want to compete for a place, want it guaranteed. The thing is this, I don’t want players who aren’t prepared to fight for their place. Kos fought for his and won it, Per was slated by the press when he arrived but established himself as an essential element. Now without either one of them we look fragile and we started the season with just the 2 of them.

    Do I blame M. Wenger? No, because I don’t know the ins and outs of it. I won’t criticise stuff I don’t understand, I just think it needs to be sorted out because this could be a championship winning side I(and I don’t mean the Football League Championship!)

  17. @Blacksheep63, good post. I’d only add that considering the amount of injuries we get each season, and some players seem injury prone like Gibbs, it’s not hard to imagine we might be a little short. Of course it’s great to see our youth come through and everyone hopes they can be stars of the future but how many successful youngsters have come through in the last ten years? Not many I think but I’m ready to be corrected.

  18. I think that Bellerin is very much in the plans of Wenger for the future. Debuchy-Chambers-Bellerin at right back should have been more than enough.

    A central defender might have been bought. Vermaelen is in fact no loss at all. If we would have kept him he would have been playing as much as he has done with Barcelona: nothing as he is still injured as most of the time last season.
    But the promotion of Hayden means that Wenger has other things in mind. Of course nobody could tell that Hayden also would be injured in the last weeks. I know Hayden isn’t a proven player. But we all have to start somewhere and sometimes.

    And we know that Wenger at some stage wanted Vertonghen when he left Ajax. But he wanted a certain starting place and didn’t get that so went to the spuds. I think there are more like him out there who want that and then move to another team. That’s his good right of course to turn us down. For some being able to play every week is more important than to come to Arsenal.
    We might even accept a place under the bench at Arsenal but that is why we are supporters and they are professional football players 🙂

  19. Didnt they want Wellback? Thankfully we dodged a bullet with Mario! At least Danny doesn’t have the baggage. Hardworking player for the team. A stark contrast to Ballot – who has shades of Adebayor in him when the going gets tough.

  20. Spurs get a huge amount of money for selling Bale and spend it on seven other players, hasn’t worked out and fans aren’t happy. Wenger doesn’t spend money and Arsenal just get Top 4 football and Champions League football, fans aren’t happy.

    Spurs slow down transfer dealings and aren’t doing well, Spurs fans aren’t happy. Wenger spends money and Arsenal aren’t doing as well as expected, fans aren’t happy.

    I think unless you win the title every season then there will also be a large collection of fans not happy with how the club is run. I think people should just chill out and get behind their teams and enjoy the ride because there will be a point in the future when things are great, you just have to go through bad times to get there.

  21. Very interesting to hear from fans of other clubs, JohnnyS and SpursFanView. It helps to put everything into perspective. The way some Arsenal fans moan and cry and vent about our transfers,…well, it’s nothing new, most fans of other clubs do it too!

    The point is transfers is a very difficult business, unlike the journalists and pundits and keyboard warriors would have us believe! Like JohnnyS points out, unless you have a sugar daddy who will keep spending and spending and spending and spending until they get the players they want.

    Chelsea bought Costa, Remy and Drogba. Before that they had Lukaku, Ba, Eto’o, Torres, Sturridge, Kalou, Anleka,…
    We can look at how they go through players in other positions, and you can do exactly the same for Man City. Very few clubs can afford to go through players like that, buying them and disposing them as they please. For most clubs, like Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, we just can’t do that.

    Like SpursFanView says, supporters need to stop moaning so much, just support your club no matter what. Why? Because that’s your club, you don’t need any better reason to support them!

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