Balotelli could have a Cantona-esque impact on Liverpool

The modern equivalent of the 'enfant terrible' can do for the Reds what the Frenchman did for Manchester United in the 1990s

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 August, 2014, 10:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 August, 2014, 10:21pm

Despite Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers saying with great conviction it would never happen, bad boy Mario Balotelli has arrived on Merseyside and right on cue issued a signature faux pas to celebrate his return.

The Italian international tweeted two minutes before his new employer's planned statement about his surprise signing, "YNWA! COME ON LIVERPOOL!"

Welcome back, Mario. We were just starting to miss the man dubbed "unmanageable" by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho and who had his former Manchester City boss, Roberto Mancini, contemplating psychological treatment, such was his maddening effect on his superiors.

Balotelli looks hungry for the glory and adulation he enjoyed in Manchester, more so after the relative quiet of Italy

Balotelli, signed from AC Milan, brings with him plenty of experience, an English Premier League title-winning medal and considerable talent that would greatly benefit any team.

But there is also all the well-documented controversy that travels with the 24-year-old, and some are asking if Liverpool have via their £16 million (HK$205 million) purchase jumped out of the frying pan after off-loading Luis Suarez and straight back into the fire.

Yet who would deny the game needs more characters, an "enfant terrible" to spice up the otherwise homogenic, tightly controlled players who repeat club PR guff and cliches.

Liverpool certainly need a striker who doesn't bite opponents in between scoring.

Balotelli looks hungry for the glory and adulation he enjoyed in Manchester, more so after the relative quiet of Italy.

It was an error to leave England in the first place, he said. "I wanted to go to Italy but I realised it was a mistake. English football is beautiful. Liverpool are one of the best teams here," he gushed.

"It's a great team with young players, and that's why I came here."

The striker was speaking ahead of Manchester City's 3-1 rout of his new team on Monday evening, which he watched from the Etihad directors' box.

But other parts of his interview will bolster the resolve of Liverpool fans after this week's reality check. Balotelli said his ultimate goal at Anfield is to take Liverpool to a Champions League final and win it.

Supporters and pundits who like their glasses half full believe signing the eccentric player is a transfer gamble to rival Alex Ferguson's wager on Eric Cantona.

Under Ferguson's patient tutelage, the Frenchman proved to be United's missing link to drive them to a title last won 26 years previously. It's a delicious conceit to par Balotelli with King Eric - certainly a far better comparison than with the man he replaces.

While we condemn player violence, at least Cantona's infamous kung-fu kick was based on an ancient martial art, whereas Suarez's biting hails from the swamp.

Balotelli was just 18 months old when Cantona first tread English turf in a Leeds shirt at Oldham's Boundary Park in February 1992.

He had tripped up at Elland Road after walking out on French club Nimes in disgust at having been given a one-month suspension for throwing a ball at a referee - then the ban was doubled after Cantona called each member of the disciplinary panel an idiot.

Along with the triumphs he helped engineer for United were his infamous contempt for authority, a catalogue of transgressions and pearls of baffling metaphors.

Fellow rebel Balotelli exudes the same fiery sense of injustice and incorrigibility; he was sent off three times during his 18 months with Manchester City, threw darts at colleagues, caused neighbourhood alarm with fireworks and then asked - without a hint of irony - via his T-shirt, "Why always me?"

Yet both players endeared themselves to supporters because they appear as being of the people, spurning mansions and tipping generously. And each is an exceptional football talent.

There the similarities ends. The now-retired Cantona rose above the controversy and media distractions, and given his natural intelligence and insight to the modern game's circus, established himself as an EPL great, an icon, a legend.

Balotelli clearly has the talent to do likewise but does he possess the same insight and application to wise up? Cantona was saved from himself with help from Ferguson, who indulged him. Rodgers, however, has vowed to come down hard on Balotelli should he in any way challenge the on-going construction of the Anfield work ethic on or off the pitch.

Whether the delicate Liverpool dressing room needed a like-for-like replacement - one erratic player and combustible personality for another - is a question that has the sceptics shaking their heads in dismay at their half-empty glasses.

Clearly Rodgers and his management team have calculated Balotelli is worth the risk, though he will be unable to match Suarez's three hat-tricks and 31 league goals - despite missing six games through suspension - last season.

Perhaps it is the assists that the Italian offers which sold him to Liverpool. One thing is certain, however - football just got a lot more interesting.