SO, after numerous incidents on and off the field Mario Balotelli appeared to have hammered the final nail into his coffin when, last week, he engaged in a ‘training-ground incident’ with his manager, Roberto Mancini.
Then, on Sunday evening, Luis Suarez once again made the headlines with what ESPN’s Jon Champion mistakenly chose to call ‘the work of a cheat’.
Ignoring the fact that Suarez’s hand was already in the air when the ball bounced back up, Champion decided to side with the majority and jump on the ‘Suarez is a dirty, cheating foreigner’, just because that’s the more popular bandwagon.
It was in July 2011 that I wrote about how glad I was to have ‘characters’ in our side. At the time, I was referring to Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez (but more so, Suarez) and referenced Manchester City’s Balotelli as an example of such a character from another side. It was – and still is – my belief that every side needs a player like this to be successful – they are either arrogant (but brilliant), slightly unhinged (but brilliant), or just a flat-out mentalist (but brilliant). I’ve changed my mind somewhat about Balotelli now, though.
We’ve seen players like these down the years be the difference for their sides and they always have an edge, whether that is a particular dirtiness, an arrogance, a penchant for the dramatic (ie. diving) but their contributions mark them out as being worth all that hassle.
Players such as Zidane, Cantona, Maradona and, to a lesser extent, players like Ginola, Zola and Henry. All of these have one thing in common: they have a fatal flaw in their character, but that only seems to add to them; to give them something extra.
Over the years, people have claimed that Rooney is one such player but, for me, he just never gives enough on the pitch to make up for his flaws. As demonstrated by the utterly unremarkable season he is having right now.
On the other hand, Luis Suarez is the embodiment of such a player. He has had his own controversial moments since his arrival, culminating in a lengthy ban, and many disparaging words spoken about him weekly by fellow players and press alike but this has only helped unite all Liverpool fans around him.
Of course, closing ranks wouldn’t be happening in such a fervent fashion were it not for the Uruguayan’s contributions on the pitch. This season alone he has found the net 19 times (many of which were created by him alone) and assisted 8 of his team mates in finding goals too.
Not only that, but since ‘that incident’ and his long ban in 2012, Suarez has gone on to score 28 times with about 12 assists on top of that. So, his form since then shows that he may have learned from the incident and is showing that he appreciates the support, despite his wrong doings. Not so with Balotelli who, since that same point last year, has scored only 9 times since. The contrast really could not be greater.
Both players came to the Premier League for a similar fee and both have had their moments both in, and out, of the sun. Only Suarez though, appears to understand that fans are only forgiving of your misdemeanours, to a point. On Sunday, the reporters had a great old field day on the striker, looking to gain the popular vote by claiming he ‘showed his arm’ to the Mansfield fans and totally ignoring the fact that Suarez’s regular goal celebration involve kissing his wrist, not showing his arm to the opposition fans.
Sundays’ incident aside, Suarez has again been in the press for the wrong reasons again this season, but he is now turning this around and even his most ardent critics are turning. Some argue that, even if he is the best player in the country, his ‘crimes’ against Evra, Terry and humanity in general mean he should never be allowed to win the player of the year award but I would argue that we need mavericks like Suarez. Without him the league becomes beige.
Remember back to when Benitez and Mourinho came to the Premier League. Back then, all we had for entertainment were Ferguson and Wenger, and we all know how god-damn exciting that particular battle has been down the years. But once those two young, dynamic figures came to our biggest league, all of a sudden things were spiced up. They were riling people (more often than not, one another) up left and right, but they were also doing the business with their respective teams too, and that’s the most important ingredient.
So while Balotelli may be entertaining at times, and we’ve all had a laugh at the stories of his endeavours, this is now were his usefulness ends, it seems. Suarez is another matter however – he is a maverick and a genius, whilst also rubbing people up the wrong way, and often it’s players like him that make this league (and this club) special, and we should all be thankful for that.