Balotelli to arrive at Liverpool as bold successor to Suarez

'Balotelli shares an ability to do the remarkable that will allow him to excite Anfield,' writes Richard Jolly. 'What he has not done is deliver with the regularity that Suarez did last season.'

Mario Balotelli scored 14 goals in 25 Serie A matches for AC Milan in 2013/14. Antonio Calanni / AP
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Adam Lallana cost more. So did both Dejan Lovren and Lazar Markovic. At £16 million (Dh97.5m), Mario Balotelli will only be Liverpool’s fourth biggest summer signing. It just won’t feel that way.

Balotelli has an almost inimitable ability to fascinate. The cartoonish element to many of his escapades, the extraordinary nature of his talent, the eternal unpredictability that means he is available at such a comparatively slight price: each helps explain Balotelli’s magnetic charm. He is headline maker, charismatic controversialist, the world beater with a self-destructive streak.

And so, inevitably, he will bring comparisons with another: Luis Suarez. Liverpool have signed other strikers, in Rickie Lambert and Divock Origi, and twin flair players, in Lallana and Markovic, already this summer but Balotelli is a second nonconformist, another who can straddle the divide between hero and villain. He will be deemed the Suarez replacement, charged with ensuring the 31-goal Footballer of the Year isn’t missed. He cost a fraction of the £75m fee Barcelona paid for Suarez but his profile and his potential make him the marquee arrival Liverpool have wanted all summer.

They had paid out more than £100m for new signings this summer before even bidding for the Italian, but their spending spree may be judged on the basis of Balotelli. Fail and he will be manager Brendan Rodgers’ folly; succeed and Suarez will not seem such a grievous loss. Certainly, Balotelli shares an ability to do the remarkable that will allow him to excite Anfield. He has the outsized personality that allows supporters to idolise him.

What he does not done is deliver with the regularity that Suarez did last season. Sendings off and strangely anaemic performances have pockmarked his career. So, too, have moments of great virtuosity and matches where he has verged on the unplayable: Manchester City’s 6-1 derby win at Old Trafford in 2011 and Italy’s 2-1 Euro 2012 triumph against Germany, to name but two. Balotelli supplied Sergio Aguero’s injury-time title-winning goal against QPR two years ago. He is often a big-game player, but guarantees of anything other than excellence from the penalty spot are elusive. He has never scored 20 goals in a season, a landmark a forward of his gifts should have reached.

It is why signing him is a risk, even if it is alleviated by the comparatively low price, by Liverpool’s need for another striker and by the requirement to end their long, fruitless search. Daniel Sturridge could be upstaged by his new partner in attack, but he may also be relieved. Balotelli can absorb the attention.

He presents a challenge to Rodgers. His old ally, Jose Mourinho, gave up on Balotelli in his Inter Milan years. Roberto Mancini, long his fellow Italian’s mentor, took him to City but sold him in resigned frustration. Rodgers deserves credit for the fine form Suarez produced during his two years under the Northern Irishman. Getting Balotelli to deliver such a standard would rank as a greater achievement. But if he can, then the price will seem a bargain.

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