Mario Balotelli is back in England with Liverpool, and he’s still attracting headlines everywhere he goes.
Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Kenny Jackett had to take to the media to reject widespread suggestions on social media that Balotelli was involved in a clash during a behind-closed-doors friendly last week, via the Mirror.
Balotelli himself will be expecting more of the same rumor creation and spreading during his time at Anfield, as the media and fans continue to operate under the mythical persona that they have all combined to create.
But as he prepares to make his home debut in Red against Aston Villa this weekend, there are reasons to believe that while he will still be subject to constant scrutiny. Mario Balotelli will be a better player at Anfield than during his time with Manchester City.
Here are five reasons why.
He’s Four Years Older
It seems as if Mario Balotelli has been around forever. After all, we’ve heard all about his temper tantrums dating back to his days at Internazionale, his racism controversies during his time in Italy, then his folk legends at Manchester City.
That he has been in the spotlight since 2007 when he made his debut for Inter is a testament to his talent and potential, which led to Roberto Mancini giving him his debut at the Giuseppe Meazza.
When he arrived at City for £22.5 million, he brought a considerable reputation with him—yet he was only just 20 years old.
Four years on, Balotelli has become Italy’s starting striker, with a stint as AC Milan‘s starting striker sandwiched in between.
At just 24 years of age, Balotelli should finally come of age as a professional footballer, and he will be maturing and growing into his prime years at Liverpool.
A Young and Driven Dressing Room at Anfield
In the teams he has previously played for, Balotelli was one of the most well-known, probably attracting the most controversy. Yet he was undisputedly one of the youngest stars on the team.
At Anfield, he will be playing with a group that will be hitting their peak roughly at the same time as he will—the likes of Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and Javi Manquillo, all starting options in Brendan Rodgers’ team, are all younger than Balotelli, while Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson and Mamadou Sakho are all in the same age bracket.
Last season was evidence that Rodgers has cultivated a driven and confident dressing room culture at Anfield, and Balotelli will be taking to the training field every day with colleagues all eager to prove themselves as professional footballers.
With an Anfield crowd as adoring and patient towards new and young stars as they are famous for, he will know that time is on his side at Liverpool even when the world of Mario Balotelli seems to always be spinning much faster outside football.
He Can Concentrate on His Own Game
Upon Balotelli’s signing in late August, his agent Mino Raiola stated that his client wasn’t born to be a leader, and that he had “searched for a team where he can be an important player without being asked to lead,” according to the Daily Mail.
Often treated as the main man of AC Milan’s attack, coinciding with an alarming slide in the Serie A powerhouse’s fortunes and performances, Balotelli is also at an “all or nothing” stage at his age and period in his career, according to Raiola.
That Rodgers has actively looked to recruit leaders and club captains in his transfer business will not have been lost on Raiola or Balotelli himself, and the Italian striker will be surrounded by other vocal presences and leadership figures in the Anfield dressing room.
Raiola also stated that Steven Gerrard will protect him and allow him the freedom to concentrate on his own game, providing him a platform to excel at what he does best.
A Tactical Setup Allowing Him to Excel
And what Balotelli does best is excel as an all-round forward with strengths in almost all areas of the attacking game.
With Rodgers appearing to settle on a 4-4-2 diamond formation as his preferred setup for most weeks, Balotelli will be a regular starter alongside Sturridge with the excitingly talented Raheem Sterling supporting the attack behind them.
A Reds side coursing with pace, energy, composure and off-the-ball pressing sets a platform for a relentless attack to excel, and Sturridge has on many occasions shown that he is much more dangerous in a strike partnership than as a lone striker.
With Sturridge, Sterling and Co. providing the pace and ever-improving tactical intelligence to occupy opposition defences, Balotelli will be given the space and freedom to create and score goals.
Brendan Rodgers’ Tutelage
Despite records that Balotelli has enjoyed a decent strike rate so far in his professional career, critics are coming around to the fact that he is not all that potent in open play, with his composure from the penalty spot contributing to his goal tally.
Yet this is where Brendan Rodgers comes in, a manager who worked on Luis Suarez’s finishing and goal-scoring output, transforming him into one of the deadliest strikers in world football just a couple of seasons since he was derided for wasting Liverpool’s chances in Kenny Dalglish’s team.
Add to that Rodgers’ increasingly famous knack for providing the man management, motivation, technical and tactical coaching to resurrect players’ careers, turning them into potential superstars. This suddenly becomes a mouthwatering prospect for Liverpool fans.
At £16 million, an off-the-shelf Balotelli should already prove to be good value; if he thrives in the environment that Rodgers has created at Melwood and the feel-good optimism at Anfield, he might even be able to one-up his time at Manchester City.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.