LONDON, August 30 – Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists he won’t build his team around Mario Balotelli as the maverick Italy striker prepares to make his return to the Premier League at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Balotelli is in contention to make his Liverpool debut at White Hart Lane following his £16 million ($26 million) move from AC Milan earlier this week.
The 24-year-old has already impressed his new team-mates in training and his potent combination of power and poise make him an intriguing addition as Rodgers looks to reinvigorate his forward line following Luis Suarez’s move to Barcelona.
But, while Rodgers trusted Suarez enough to make him the focal point of Liverpool’s attack, he doesn’t plan to let the gifted but psychologically fragile Balotelli carry the same burden.
Instead, he wants the former Manchester City star, who quit England in January 2013 after a series of training ground rows and off-field controversies, to complement the predatory instincts of England striker Daniel Sturridge.
Asked how much responsibility Balotelli has to compensate for the loss of Suarez, who was Liverpool’s top scorer with 31 goals last season, Rodgers said: “No more than the rest of the team. He is a member of the team.
“This is not the Mario Balotelli show. He is a good player, a talented player. But he has got a lot of work to do here.
“We have a number of top-class players and the star of this team will always be the team.
“We are looking to bring him in and he can play with Daniel Sturridge, he can play up there on his own or play off the side.
“He is moving to Merseyside. He is engrossing himself into the club and the people, but more importantly into his football.
“I look forward to seeing that development over the coming years.”
– Stern examination –
Liverpool have made an uncertain start to the post-Suarez era, narrowly beating Southampton before losing 3-1 at Manchester City on Monday, and they will face a stern examination of their title credentials against in-form Tottenham.
In the circumstances, Balotelli’s arrival could be a perfectly-timed fillip for Rodgers’ team, who are also boosted by the return from a knee injury of Adam Lallana, with the England midfielder set to make his delayed debut following his £25 million switch from Southampton.
But Tottenham could easily ruin the Liverpool new-boys’ maiden appearances on the evidence of their strong start to the season.
Under the leadership of new manager Mauricio Pochettino, the north London side have reeled off four successive wins in all competitions to climb to the top of the Premier League and advance to the group stages of the Europa League.
Especially impressive was their 4-0 demolition of Queen’s Park Rangers last weekend and Pochettino sees no reason to fear Liverpool even with Balotelli and Lallana in the mix.
“For England, for our football, it is important that star players come here,” Pochettino said.
“Mario Balotelli is an unbelievable player and he has very good skill.
“And, okay, it is important for football and for Liverpool, not for us.”
Tottenham’s players could be forgiven for wanting a little revenge over Liverpool having lost 4-0 at Anfield after a 5-0 humiliation at White Hart Lane last term.
But Pochettino is keen to keep his squad’s emotions in check and ensure they focus instead on implementing his game-plan.
“The past is the past. I don’t want to remember the past,” Pochettino said.
“It is a new season and I think we have a different style, different philosophy.
“Our philosophy is play football along the grass, make good combinations, work hard and, at the moment, the players are happy.”