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Mario Balotelli to Liverpool: Risky business to think Balotelli can replace Luis Suarez

The fiery Italian can be even more trouble than departed Uruguayan yet does not guarantee the same amount of success on the pitch

Having let go of Luis Suarez, Liverpool today agreed a fee for another colourful character, Mario Balotelli, who became such a headline-grabber for his antics while at Manchester City.

Liverpool have agreed to pay Milan £16m to bring the Italian striker back to the Premier League and are holding talks with his agent Mino Raiola over personal terms.

Unfortunately for Liverpool the comparisons with Suarez are a little forced – Balotelli may be just as prone to the spectacular and the unpredictable but he is unlikely to score 30 goals a season – he managed only 30 in two-and-a-half years at City. He will also have to make major changes to his style of play if he is to lead Liverpool’s high-energy pressing game as Suarez did; and neither does he lead the family-orientated life of suburban sobriety away from the pitch as the Uruguayan did.

Neither does he appear to have been Liverpool’s first choice to replace Suarez. If Alexis Sanchez had chosen Merseyside over London; or if Loïc Rémy’s transfer had gone through, Liverpool and Milan would never have reached this point.

The consolation for the club’s supporters is that it will not be dull and at £16m, even if they get just a couple of seasons of excitement from him before 19-year-old Belgian international Divock Origi returns from his loan spell back at Lille and matures into the top striker Brendan Rodgers believes he can become, then it will have been worth it.

If a £90,000-a-week five-year contract is agreed in time and the 24-year-old is registered before midday on Friday he could make his debut against Manchester City on Monday. The opponents may be an early reminder of the reasons he gave for wanting to leave the country in 2013.

When Balotelli moved to Milan in January of that year, after two-and-a-half years at Manchester City, he was asked what it was he didn’t like about England: “The press, the weather, the food, the way you drive. That’s it,” was his reply (crashing his Audi R8 three weeks after arriving in Manchester might have put him off English roads). They, like the other three gripes, will not have changed much since he has been away.

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But in that grumpy presentation he also praised the atmosphere and quality of what he referred to several times as the “amazing” Premier League, and Rodgers will be able to tap into that, getting him right for big matches where he tended not to let Manchester City down.


He also represents a more viable investment than Samuel Eto’o who might have been perfect for Liverpool’s style of play five years ago when Barcelona sold him to appease Pep Guardiola, but not at his current age.

Eto’o is another potentially difficult player to manage and his fall-outs have sometimes involved team-mates. Balotelli’s don’t usually cause too much dressing room discord.

It could still be a bumpy ride, however, especially if the form of some of the other Liverpool players signed in their £101m summer spending spree outperform him and limit his first team involvement – an idle Balotelli is twice as dangerous as a motivated regularly-starting one.

pg-58-suarez-getty.jpg At Milan he seemed to have found a coach who could get the best out of him in Clarence Seedorf. He scored the late penalty against Verona that insured Seedorf won his first match in charge in January 2014; he even dedicated the goal to his new manager.

A bond was emerging and the Dutch coach defended his striker against criticism when he cried on the bench after being taken off in a 3-1 defeat to Napoli a month later, understood to be upset after being confirmed as the father of the child of a former girlfriend. But Seedorf was out of a job by June. Going the same way as the last coach to put his faith in Balotelli, Roberto Mancini.

Rodgers should at least have enough alternative attacking options to not need to make the same mistake. And if against the odds he makes a long-term success of the transfer, it will go down as one of his greatest coaching triumphs.