Previous
Juventus
Malmo FF
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Olympiakos
Atletico Madrid
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Liverpool
Ludogorets Razgrad
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Real Madrid
FC Basel
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
AS Monaco
Bayer Leverkusen
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Benfica
Zenit St Petersburg
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Borussia Dortmund
Arsenal
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Galatasaray
Anderlecht
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Philadelphia Union
Seattle Sounders FC
11:30 PM GMT
Game Details
AFC Bournemouth
Leeds United
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Birmingham City
Sheffield Wednesday
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Blackpool
Watford
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Brentford
Norwich City
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Cardiff City
Middlesbrough
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Charlton Athletic
Wolverhampton Wanderers
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Huddersfield Town
Wigan Athletic
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Ipswich Town
Brighton & Hove Albion
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Bolton Wanderers
Rotherham United
7:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Reading
Millwall
7:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Waterhouse
DC United
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Cruz Azul
Chorrillo FC
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Portland Timbers
Olimpia
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Colchester United
Sheffield United
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Doncaster Rovers
Crawley Town
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Gillingham
Peterborough United
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Milton Keynes Dons
Bradford City
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Notts County
Leyton Orient
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Port Vale
Bristol City
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Preston North End
Chesterfield
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Rochdale
Walsall
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Scunthorpe United
Coventry City
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Swindon Town
Oldham Athletic
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Yeovil Town
Crewe Alexandra
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
AFC Wimbledon
Burton Albion
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Bury
Stevenage
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Cambridge United
Exeter City
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Cheltenham Town
Southend United
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Mansfield Town
Morecambe
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Northampton Town
Hartlepool United
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Oxford United
Accrington Stanley
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Plymouth Argyle
Wycombe Wanderers
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Portsmouth
Dagenham & Redbridge
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Shrewsbury Town
Carlisle United
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Tranmere Rovers
Newport County
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
York City
Luton Town
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Aldershot Town
Braintree Town
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Alfreton Town
AFC Telford United
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Bristol Rovers
Nuneaton Town
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Chester City
Southport
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Dartford
Dover
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Eastleigh
Forest Green Rovers
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Halifax
Grimsby Town
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Kidderminster Harriers
Altrincham
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Macclesfield Town
Gateshead
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Torquay United
Woking
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Welling
Lincoln City
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Barnet
Wrexham
7:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Rangers
Inverness Caledonian Thistle
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Al Hilal
Al-Ain
5:30 PM GMT
Leg 1
Game Details
Guadalajara
Tijuana
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Mérida
Atlante
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Puebla
Morelia
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Celaya
Necaxa
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Coras Tepic
Zacatepec
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Dorados de Sinaloa
Mineros de Zacatecas
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Monterrey
Santos
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Toluca
UNAM
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Estudiantes La Plata
Gimnasia La Plata
10:00 PM GMT
Leg 2Aggregate: 0 - 0
Game Details
Independiente del Valle
Cerro Porteño
10:00 PM GMT
Leg 1
Game Details
Deportivo Capiatá
Caracas F.C.
12:15 AM GMT
Leg 1
Game Details
Peñarol
Deportivo Cali
12:30 AM GMT
Leg 1
Game Details
América Mineiro
Bragantino
10:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Avaí
Sampaio Correa-MA
10:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Goianiense
América RN
10:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Náutico
Joinville
10:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Paraná Clube
Ceará
10:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Portuguesa de Desportos
Boa MG
10:30 PM GMT
Game Details
ABC
AA Ponte Preta
12:50 AM GMT
Game Details
Icasa
Vila Nova-GO
12:50 AM GMT
Game Details
Luverdense
Santa Cruz FC
12:50 AM GMT
Game Details
Oeste
CR Vasco da Gama
12:50 AM GMT
Game Details
Bidvest Wits
Amazulu
Postp
Game Details
Kaizer Chiefs
Maritzburg Utd
Postp
Game Details
Next
 Posted by Gabriele Marcotti
Aug 21, 2014

Balotelli is good business for Liverpool

ESPN FC's Shaka Hislop has had enough of Mario Balotelli, and says it's no longer worth taking a chance on the young striker.

Few things polarize social media like the terms "Liverpool" and "Mario Balotelli." So when news broke Thursday that the Italy striker appeared to be on his way to Anfield, the subsequent Twitterstorm was predictable.

On Monday, I made the point that Liverpool didn't need another high-profile striker, that Brendan Rodgers likely felt he'd be best served with the one-forward system he used for most of his managerial career and that, if he were going to add an option up front, it made sense for it to be a youngster or a mid-range squad player, rather than someone in the Edinson Cavani/Radamel Falcao bracket.

Some agreed; some didn't. What I think most can appreciate, though, is that at the reported agreed fee ($26.5 million), it may well be a roll of the dice worth making from Liverpool's perspective. It's a bit tougher to understand from Milan's perspective and, from Balotelli's vantage point, there are questions too.

As of early Thursday afternoon, the deal wasn't yet official. The numbers could yet change and, as ever, it could fall apart. But Balotelli himself said he'd had his final training session at Milanello. And every indication was that it was close to fruition.

Liverpool let one controversial striker in Luis Suarez go, but are signing another talented yet mercurial player in Balotelli.

WHY IT MAKES SENSE

For Liverpool: Balotelli turned 24 just last month. He's not a prolific goal scorer like Luis Suarez was but, since turning 20, he's averaged a goal every 140 minutes in league play for Milan and Manchester City. Which isn't that far off Suarez's numbers of one every 139 minutes of league play (albeit mostly all from open play, unlike Balotelli's) during his Liverpool career. The problem is getting Balotelli on the pitch and keeping him happy and motivated (aspects that were never a problem with Suarez). But it's a risk-reward thing. If Rodgers can get through to him and get him on the pitch regularly, even if he doesn't go to the next level in terms of potential, he'll still pick up a chunk of Suarez's slack at a portion of the price.

Tactically, he can easily play wide as an impact winger or through the middle, meaning he gives you a range of options: 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-diamond-2; that's not a problem for him. He also delivers commercially in terms of sponsors and image rights which, in the modern game, matters tremendously.

What makes it work is the fee: $26.5 million for a 24-year-old who -- barring some kind of cataclysm -- is likely to retain much of his transfer value even if he doesn't work out is a no-brainer.

For Milan: When you're in rebuilding mode, you need to make painful decisions sometimes. Balotelli belongs in the Champions League and Milan won't be there for a while. Best to take the cash, lose the headache and work from the ground up.

He made a huge contribution in his first six months at the club, but last season blew hot and cold. And what the Rossoneri need right now is someone consistent who can fit into new boss Pippo Inzaghi's system. Maybe coming home and playing for the club he supported as a boy wasn't such a good idea; maybe there was too much pressure on him.

If Inzaghi and the club feel they can't give him the right environment to help him mature and curb some of his excesses, there's no point in keeping him around.

For Balotelli: He's moving to a better league and a better team. As long as he performs on the pitch and gives his all, Liverpool can be an extremely forgiving place toward idiosyncratic players. He won't be wound up by racist abusers. And he'll feel less pressure because he won't be the main man and because, tabloid media aside, England is generally a quieter place for most foreign players. He has already had the experience of living abroad, so settling in on Merseyside should be less of an issue.

WHY IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE

For Liverpool: You can only have so many players on the pitch at one time. Some guys don't mind being rotated in and out of the team. Others do.

Balotelli is in the latter category, and Rodgers will already need to squeeze Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana in the starting lineup. Will Balotelli (or, indeed, any of the aforementioned trio) accept a part-time role? And if they don't, will they be unhappy in a quiet way or will they blow up and cause trouble?

Balotelli was depicted by some as the source of all of Manchester City's problems when they failed to win the title in 2012-13. Maybe that characterization was unfair, but football-wise, he wasn't missed. And now Milan seem only too happy to let him go. Doesn't that set off warning signs? By all accounts, Liverpool have a strong, united dressing room. Why risk jeopardizing that?

Then there's his work rate. At times, he's about as energetic and dynamic as the corner flag. Basically, the opposite of Suarez, who was a perpetual motion machine and whose movement was intelligent and purposeful.

And what of his mental state? His propensity to collect stupid red cards? I count six in the past four years, to which you can add the one he should have had at the World Cup for booting Alvaro Pereira in the head.

For Milan: It's an absurdly low fee relative to a replacement of comparable quality. There is no escaping that. If Ciro Immobile can go for roughly the same fee -- and he's six months older and nowhere near the same level -- then you know you're practically giving him away.

You're in a position now where you're forced to sign another centre-forward because all you have left is Giampaolo Pazzini who is 30 years old, often injured and managed all of two Serie A goals last year.

Think supporters were angry with club CEO and vice-president Adriano Galliani a year ago? They'll be even angrier now. You've thrown in the towel on Balotelli after just 18 months. What does that say about you and your ability to grow and adjust to your stars?

For Balotelli: You're joining a club that won't be built around you, which means you'll need to prove yourself to get playing time. Liverpool are not as heavily invested in you as Milan were and that means you'll run out of chances quicker. The food and weather aren't as good as they are back home. And the paparazzi are more intrusive. You'll be, once again, far away from your friends and most of your family.

BOTTOM LINE

At that price, it's a great deal for Liverpool. The worst-case scenario -- some kind of Balotelli madness that stops him from playing and sees him banished to the reserves- - isn't that catastrophic. You'll still get half your fee back which, when you throw in amortization, won't be that bad. Not when weighed against the positives, which range from performing the way he has in the past 18 months (acceptable at that fee) to having him live up to his potential and become one of the best strikers in the world.

Rodgers is going into this with his eyes wide open. It's not as if Balotelli is an unknown quantity in a Premier League environment. And he's obviously had success with guys like Suarez and Sturridge, both of whom were perceived to have checkered personalities.

Balotelli is intelligent enough to know that there's no point being where he's not wanted. Getting another crack at a big Premier League club is a chance worth taking. As for Milan, all you can do is shake your head. No planning, no foresight, a lot of hot air. At least when they sold Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic they got top dollar for them. Here, it appears they're selling Balotelli for little more than the price of a Shane Long or a Fabio Borini.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.