Saturday 18 January 2020

Liverpool warn Mario Balotelli he must not misbehave

Kop seek assurances before finalising £16m deal

Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, has sought assurances from Mario Balotelli that he will abide by the club’s code of conduct before pressing ahead with the £16 million signing of the Italian striker.

Having agreed a fee with AC Milan, the Merseyside club held talks with Balotelli’s agent Mino Raiola in Liverpool on Thursday, during which strict criteria for concluding the deal were stipulated.

It is understood Rodgers and the Anfield hierarchy requested a series of clauses to reflect the professional conduct demanded of all Liverpool’s players, with Balotelli facing disciplinary measures if he falls out of line.

Liverpool felt this was necessary given the 24-year-old’s track record at previous clubs where his on-field success was too often overshadowed by his off-field and training-ground indiscretions. Although Milan had earlier announced the departure of the player, Liverpool said the acceptance of these personal terms would be a key condition of the move.

Should the deal go ahead, Rodgers will offer an explanation for an uncharacteristic but swift about-turn when he faces the media at Liverpool’s training ground on Friday afternoon, having earlier stated “categorically” that he would not sign the former Manchester City striker.

Rodgers could not have been more emphatic during Liverpool’s recent pre-season tour of the US, but, in the three weeks since, few alternatives have presented themselves.

Liverpool lost confidence that Monaco’s Radamal Falcao would ever move to Anfield as he waited on an offer from Real Madrid, while Samuel Eto’o was seen as a backup.

Rodgers’s main motivation for changing his stance is the attractiveness of the financial package and what he perceives to be reduced risk in recruiting Balotelli for significantly less than proposed earlier in the summer. The Liverpool manager thought the initial valuation to be in the region of £40 million.

At £16 million, Liverpool believe they are signing a potential bargain and feel they are taking a calculated gamble in the hope they will benefit from a more mature striker.

Rodgers is also backing himself to succeed where others have failed in man-managing Balotelli and rather than upsetting the Liverpool dressing room, he feels his squad are close-knit enough to have a positive influence on the Italian. There will be no attempt to change Balotelli’s character, but the intention is to ensure that while he is on Liverpool duty he adheres to club rules.

Liverpool will point to the cases of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge, who arrived at Anfield with reputations as being difficult to manage, as examples of how on a purely sporting level this kind of deal can work.

Critics will point out that Suárez courted even more controversy on Merseyside following his transfer from Ajax, but the bottom line for the club is that he developed as a player, helped Liverpool back into the Champions League and was sold at a profit of £53 million for three years’ work.

The public-relations hassle was extreme, but Anfield business boomed with Suárez and contrary to fears at the time, no commercial deals were ever seriously threatened by his misdemeanours. No one at Anfield has any regrets about signing the South American and they will be hoping Balotelli has the same impact.

Similarly, Sturridge’s strike-rate of 36 goals in 50 games since he joined from Chelsea has undermined accusations at his previous clubs he was too selfish to adapt to a major club.

Controlling Balotelli may prove an altogether different challenge for Rodgers, a point he is acknowledging during negotiations with the Italian’s representatives.

Despite all that, there will be relief he is on the verge of signing the international class centre-forward he has craved since Suárez was sold to Barcelona. Liverpool found themselves in difficulty once the £8.5 million move for Queens Park Rangers striker Loic Remy broke down on medical grounds.

Balotelli is more expensive, and will command a much higher salary, but he has pedigree and was a key member of the Manchester City team that lifted the title in 2012.

His spell back in the San Siro for AC Milan - he previously won the title and Champions League under Jose Mourinho at Inter - was typically erratic but his goal ratio was outstanding: 30 goals in his 54 appearances. If he matches that, Liverpool will have secured another top-class striker. In order to be eligible to face his old club, Balotelli will have to complete his move to Anfield by midday on Friday.

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