Former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness has questioned the existence of Mario Balotelli's "football brain" and believes the misfiring striker has to undergo a personality change to survive at Anfield.
The Italy international was hauled off at half-time against Real Madrid after another lacklustre performance and with his side 3-0 down in their Champions League tie.
He may have compounded the criticism coming his way by swapping shirts with opposing defender Pepe - for which he will be disciplined - but Souness believes manager Brendan Rodgers has a much bigger problem.
"The criticism is for him not showing any enthusiasm," Souness told Press Association Sport.
"He must do all the training all the other boys do and he looks physically fit and powerful so I am just wondering if he doesn't have a football brain.
"He is just not seeing the picture of when he should be running in behind centre-halves or when he should be running towards the ball.
"I don't know whether he has any brain to make the right decision.
"You never watch Mario Balotelli and think 'Wow, he's put a real stint in'.
"There has to be something more than 'I just can't be bothered to run around'."
Souness said the striker's attitude was at odds with the team ethic but he questioned whether anyone would ever get him to alter his mentality.
"It was a very brave move to take him on because you look at the quality of managers who have tried and given up on him," added Souness, speaking on behalf of Capital One, credit card company and sponsor of the League Cup.
"Roberto Mancini twice, Jose Mourinho had one look at him and very quickly said 'I can't work with this guy', Cesare Prandelli said after the World Cup he made a giant mistake taking him to Brazil.
"What makes you (Rodgers) think you can get something different from him?
"You are talking about a complete sea-change - not just his time at Liverpool but his time at Inter, Milan and Manchester City.
"He has to have a personality change. He is in fantastic shape as a footballer and he is quicker than anyone he gets in a race with but be might not be seeing the picture and that is a hell of a worry."
Liverpool 0 Real Madrid 3 player ratings
Liverpool 0 Real Madrid 3 player ratings
1/22 Liverpool: Simon Mignolet
Could do nothing about the first two goals but the third was a defensive mess. Made one very fine save from Cristiano Ronaldo - 6/10
2/22 Glen Johnson
If it was not Ronaldo sprinting down Real's left, it was full-back Marcelo, adding up to a difficult night for Johnson, who also allowed Karim Benzema a free header for the second goal - 5
3/22 Martin Skrtel
Beaten by the brilliance of Ronaldo for the first goal then outmuscled by Pepe for the third - 5
4/22 Dejan Lovren
This was a thoroughly uncomfortable night for the Liverpool defence as a whole, but Lovren fared a little better than his team-mates - 6
5/22 Alberto Moreno
An early threat going forward but given a tough time by Real's attacking triumvirate - 5
6/22 Jordan Henderson
Worked hard but gave the ball away too often as Real overpowered Liverpool in midfield - 5
7/22 Steven Gerrard
Began brightly and tested Iker Casillas with a fine shot in the 11th minute. Thereafter occupied trying to stifle Real's attacking threat - 6
8/22 Joe Allen
Had one of Liverpool's better efforts on goal in the first half but outclassed in midfield - 5
9/22 Raheem Sterling
Looked Liverpool's most dangerous attacker, with his pace troubling Real, but too often had to try to do the whole lot himself - 6
10/22 Mario Balotelli
Retained despite heavy criticism but very ineffective and hauled off at half-time - 4
11/22 Philippe Coutinho
Looked bright to start with before fading as Real took over. Hit the post with a fine effort at the end of the first half before being substituted in the second - 5
12/22 Iker Casillas
The veteran Spain goalkeeper was making his 143th Champions League appearance, equalling all-time record holder Xavi. His form has been shaky but dealt with the few threats that came his way very capably - 6
13/22 Alvaro Arbeloa
The former Liverpool full-back enjoyed a good tussle with Sterling and then Lallana - 6
14/22 Raphael Varane
Not too much to worry about for the young French defender - 6
Set up the third goal with his persistence and had a comfortable night in defence - 6
A real presence in Real's attack and Liverpool did not manage to exploit the gaps he left - 7
A fine, energetic performance from the midfielder - 7
18/22 Luka Modric
Instrumental in Real's control of the midfield - 8
19/22 Toni Kroos
Immaculate in front of the back four and set up Benzema's goal with a fine cross. Booked for fouling Sterling - 8
20/22 James Rodriguez
Had to be patched up after an early blow to the head and had done little until his lovely chip set up Ronaldo - 7
21/22 James Rodriguez
Two goals for the Frenchman and it might have been more - 8
22/22 Cristiano Ronaldo
The former Manchester United man, not surprisingly, was greeted by plenty of boos. He had scored more goals this season than Liverpool's entire team and it took him only 23 minutes to add another sublime strike. A constant threat and substituted with Saturday's Clasico in mind - 8
Balotelli arrived back in England with a reputation for being an oddball and Souness believes the disruptive element he brings could be damaging for the dressing room.
"This is a 24-year-old man, not a 16-year-old boy. The problem you have with that is you are talking about him too much.
"You ending up spending a lot of your days defending him if you are his manager.
"Anyone would tell you the most important thing in that football club is the group and working collectively.
"If Mario turns up and doesn't train properly then on match day doesn't give 100 per cent what a great excuse it is for five players on the fringes who are not playing as much as they think they should be not to give 100 per cent.
"That is the problem you are faced with. You will never have everyone in the whole group happy so within that group if you have a few people who are unhappy they will latch on to that."
Souness felt there were not big enough characters in the dressing room to exert some peer pressure to bring Balotelli into line
"As a player you could not have been like that in my generation, not just at Liverpool but anywhere because players would not have tolerated it," said the former Scotland international, who won three European Cups and five league titles at Anfield.
"I don't see anyone having a moan at players - not just Balotelli - today.
"They don't dig each other out, it is all left to the coaching staff to deliver the bad news but in my day it was the senior players - on a daily basis until the message was lodged in your head."
:: Graeme Souness was speaking on behalf of Capital One, credit card company and sponsor of the League Cup.
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