It is the 70th minute at Anfield and Liverpool are 2-1 down to Arsenal after Olivier Giroud put the Gunners ahead. Skrtel scored a last minute equaliser but it was abysmal defending from Liverpool's three central defenders for Arsenal's second goal who appeared more concerned with watching the ball than the large Frenchman in their six yard box. Despite Liverpool's defensive issues they created a number of chances to score but unfortunately for them lacked a cutting edge. Suarez has gone, Sturridge has missed most of the season and the mercurial Mario Balotelli is sat in the crowd sentenced to a one game ban for a controversial Instagram post.
"Why always me?" was the question Balotelli asked us when he was at Manchester City; a pertinent question indeed. Since his days at Inter he has been followed by controversy but his raw talent and young age perhaps bought him leniency. Fans became increasingly torn when supporting him, as his child-like naivety and behaviour was quickly followed by pure brilliance on the pitch. At Inter he was caught on camera putting on an AC Milan shirt left by a reality TV crew. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of Italian football will understand that caused some uproar. Sure, that probably wasn't the best idea, but many players have done worse. He was showing huge promise and of course he needed to knuckle down and work hard, but his managers also needed to help him become a more mature person. In Italy he was generally appreciated for his talent and especially some of his set pieces. However he suffered racial abuse from those same fans. This would trouble anyone, yet no allowances were made, especially in the media.
The semi-final performance against Germany at Euro 2012 was phenomenal. He was an unstoppable powerhouse who showed fantastic technique to destroy the future world champions. At that time he was arguably one of the most devastating contemporary forwards and still only 22 years old. The English media were praising him through gritted teeth. At Manchester City Balotelli had a goal scoring record of one in nearly every two games which is perceived as the standard for a good striker, but he rarely received credit. The biggest issue seemed to be his apparent lack of effort. A languid style of playing football has always caused the English media offence as they believe this style means the player in question is not 'putting in a shift'. In England, running about is mentioned as an attribute, and exquisite skill as disrespect and arrogance. Balotelli is not the only player to suffer this type of criticism; Berbatov, Ozil and Yaya Toure are just a few great players also tagged with this label.
When it was clear to even the most stubborn pundits he was playing well, he was the jester, the clown. Off-field antics caused a smokescreen of the quality he was showing on the pitch. He moved back to Italy with AC Milan and once again achieved a one in two record. As usual, this was derided as some of the goals were from penalties and free kicks. Scoring from set pieces apparently don't count as much as a goal from open play.
A return to England with Liverpool was treated as a calculated risk. £16million was paid and many claimed it was Balotelli's last chance with a 'big club'. All of this seems ridiculous when such a little amount is paid for potentially one of the best forwards in Europe is spoken about as anything but a bargain.
It has to be acknowledged that Balotelli has done some silly things in his footballing career. Senseless red cards have made it more difficult for teammates and his personality has probably caused friction at his respective clubs. However, in an industry of misbehaving multimillionaire teenagers, why is he often singled out?
At Liverpool it clearly hasn't worked for him so far and perhaps his performances have not been good enough but other factors should not be discounted. When he has played he has often been made the scapegoat, even when Gerrard's latest Hollywood pass has flown out of play when pushing for a goal. But I'm sure there is no agenda...
By Dan Williams – @